“ah @#$% the game’s in three hours?!” — Gabe as we were organizing writing this preview
Heather: So where should we start? These two teams have had a rough go of it lately so...
Gabe: That actually sounds like a good first point to make. On June 24, the Cubs won their first game of a four-game set against the Los Angeles Dodgers and looked to be cruising to a first place NL Central division title. Unfortunately for them the Brewers had just won two straight in what would be a 11 game winning streak, which included three wins against the Cubs. Worse yet, the Cubs began an 11 game losing streak themselves and have since lost 12 out of 13 and comfortably out of first place, in the same exact position as the Cardinals.
The Cardinals haven’t been that bad since then, but were in the middle of losing 3 out of 4 to the Pirates on June 24. Since that date, they’ve gone 7-6, mostly thanks to winning against the fake best team in baseball (sorry Giants, I don’t believe in you.). So here we are, at the end of the All-Star break, the greatest rivalry in sports, with the two teams absolutely not playing their best ball, trying to bury the other team out of the playoffs. They have somewhat similar teams, with weak pitching rotations and should be better offenses. So Heather, who has the edge in this series and why is it the Cardinals?
H: You have kind of mentioned before that the pitching matchups seem like the best indicator of how a series will go and I think the Cardinals have the favorable pitching matchups in arguably every game of this series, but at least the last two of the series with Kwang Hyun Kim facing Zach Davies and Adam Wainwright going up against Trevor Williams. Though every time I think that I end up being terribly wrong. I talked a lot of smack (at least for me) about the Cubs pitching in the preview I did for the Cubs back in May and they held the Cardinals to 6 runs in three games. They seem evenly matched in most other areas, but the starting pitching should be advantage: Cardinals
Is there an area or matchup for the Cardinals that you are worried about?
G: Well, I would say, Heather, that when you say the Cards have the favorable pitching matchup and it doesn’t work out like you think, you’re still right, baseball is just baseball and refuses to be cooperative with such things. Also, shutting down the Cards does not seem too terribly hard a feat since the Rockies did it for all but one game and it took an explosive 10th inning for the fourth game to be different. But hopefully the Cardinals are more alive in this series, coming off scoring 5 and 6 runs against genuinely good pitching. I may not believe in the Giants, but their pitching is actually good.
I am definitely worried about today’s matchup, both because Wade LeBlanc seems like a guy who can get crushed if things are just a little off and because Kyle Hendricks always seems to pitch well against the Cards. And always seems to pitch against them — have we literally ever missed a start by him in a series against the Cubs? Surely we have, I can’t remember any though. We always play him and we never hit him. So coming up with a win today would be AWESOME, because I’m sort of writing it as a loss to be honest. The other two games I’m much more optimistic about
Speaking on the offensive side, if the Cubs have runners in scoring position, what player are you absolutely convinced will hurt the Cardinals and thus we should avoid getting into that situation (even though it will probably happen in a three-game series multiple times)?
H: I have a couple of answers for this one. My instinct is to say Anthony Rizzo. Over his career his slash line against the Cardinals is .282/.392/.468 in 148 games. He also stands on top of the plate and that has contributed to him being hit by the Cardinals 21 times. This season the Cubs best hitter has been Kris Bryant, but for whatever reason the Cardinals have been able to keep him in check. I still worry about the day that starts to change. Then finally I am worried about Patrick Wisdom, just because if he hits the Cardinals well the complaints (however fair they may be) will likely be exhausting (in 115 PA Wisdom has a 154 wRC+).
Are there any players you are worried about?
G: Yes, yes, there is a player I’m worried about: Ian Happ. Anthony Rizzo against the Cards performs like Anthony Rizzo, who is a scary hitter. And I understand not wanting Patrick Wisdom to be the reason we lose, because yes, the takes. Oh god the takes. But Ian Happ has kept his career alive by feasting on the Cards. I’m not even sure that’s an exaggeration. He’s started 39 games against the Cards, played in 55 of them, and taken 184 PAs. He’s homered 16 times, doubled 9 times, and tripled twice. That’s 52 HRs, 29 doubles, and six triples in 600 PAs. That’s what we’re dealing with here. He has a .284/.387/.677 line against us. That’s a 1.064 OPS. He has a better performance in eight PAs against the Athletics and 20 PAs against the Twins. That’s it. Those are the only other teams he’s done better against, and it’s barely anything. He absolutely murders the Cardinals.
Most of the Cubs lineup, I’m not afraid of in theory. If I am afraid, it’s because it’s the Cubs and I just feel like they’ll play better against the Cards. I’m not afraid of Javy Báez in theory, but the boom or bust approach he has means he could always boom against the Cards. I’m not afraid of Wisdom in theory at all, but of course, there’s this irrational thing where I expect him to hit well just because he used to play for the Cards. I’m not afraid of Jason Heyward, but - actually I’ll be honest, even though I feel like he does pretty well against the Cards, I’m just not that afraid of hitters who don’t homer much. Apologies to Nico Hoerner too. I’m mostly afraid of homers. That’s why I’m afraid of Joc Pederson. Definitely Bryant and Rizzo.
This doesn’t specifically have to do with the series, but Jake Arietta went on the IL for “right hamstring tightness.” This feels... very made up to avoid having to pitch him, but also to avoid releasing him. I’ll connect it to this series by saying he would have pitched Sunday instead of Trevor Williams. Thoughts?
H: I almost said Javy Báez earlier, but when I looked at him numbers they weren’t as impressive as I thought they would be! As for Trevor Williams... it’s strange. It seems like he is having a down year because I always remember him being better than what he has been so far. In the past he has had one of the better four-seamers in the league, but from 2019-2021 it has a run value at 0 or more per Baseball Savant and a Hard Hit % around or over 40%.
G: This news came out this morning. Could this affect the Cubs play you think, knowing they aren’t even going to be trying to make the playoffs?
The Cubs are indeed planning on being sellers this month, according to sources. Kris Bryant and Craig Kimbrel appear to be the most likely trade candidates, though others (Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez) could also be available. @Ken_Rosenthal and @PJ_Mooney were all over it.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) July 9, 2021
H: I’d like to think this would negatively impact the Cubs, but I don’t think it will much for this series. I have no idea how to measure the mental impact it would have on a player, but as for playing time of the good players I don’t think it moves the needle much unless the players are actually traded. It does make the stakes a little higher: If Cardinals can put them in the trash I think they would be in more of a place to sell. What do you think?
G: You’re probably right that a player actually getting traded would be the thing that would be demoralizing. This might... piss them off? I could also see it working the opposite way, like “we gotta prove we shouldn’t sell guys”. But of course, coming off losing 12 of 13... clubhouse probably isn’t in the best place anyway. But yeah, the Cards can definitely put them in the trash with a sweep — like that just doesn’t seem like something you come back from? Hear you’re selling, then getting swept by your rival and losing 15 of their last 16? You don’t really have enough time to win enough to not sell at that point, and then you sell, and like you said, when the good players actually get traded, it will affect them. So the stakes feel considerably higher for the Cubs than the Cards, who I don’t think will truly sell no matter what.
Alright not to get too hacky on this one, but I think we’ve come to the end so I have to play cliché broadcaster and ask what the keys to the series are.
H: The key to the series for the Cardinals is going to be how they hit the sinker. Davies throws his sinker over 50% of the time. Hendricks throws a sinker almost 40% of the time. In Wrigley not just the middle of the Cardinals order like Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, or Tyler O’Neill, but top through bottom the lineup needs to lift those pitches in the air and hit them far.
(Trevor Williams throws a four-seamer almost 50% of the time, but it is not what it once was and it‘s location lends well to getting hit hard. The Cardinals should do that.)
G: I will be looking for offense. As you said above, the pitching matchups this series kind of favor the Cards, but it’s not like the Cards have the strongest starters, aside from Wainwright this year, although Wainwright at Wrigley isn’t the same as Wainwright at Busch. So the offense will need to show up. They showed up in the Giants series, and they’re going to have to show up this series. So I guess my key to the series is SCORE RUNS.
Friday, July 9 at 1:20 pm CT: Wade LeBlanc vs. Kyle Hendricks
Saturday, July 10 at 7:15 pm CT: Kwang Hyun Kim vs. Zach Davies
Sunday, July 11 at 1:20 pm CT: Adam Wainwright vs. Trevor Williams