The St. Louis Cardinals have been on quite a roll and hope to keep it going as they roll into the friendly confines of Wrigley Field to take on the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals haven’t seen the Cubs since they played on July 22. A lot has changed for the Cubs since then: — Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo are gone, for starters. Even without their top players anything can happen in the Windy City. Hopefully the Cardinals are up for the task because if they want to punch their ticket into the postseason they have five games in between them and Philadelphia Phillies.
I am going to try to make this quick because there is a doubleheader today with the first game starting at 1:20 pm. The Cubs lost most of their best hitters and leading the team now are some newer faces. Kind of. Cardinals fans might remember Patrick Wisdom; he spent seven years in the Cardinals organization before being traded to the Texas Rangers for Drew Robinson. Wisdom has a 116 wRC+ and has hit 27 homers. He strikes out a lot though — about 41% of his plate appearances per Fangraphs.
The best hitter for Cubs right now is Frank Schwindel. The Cubs acquired Schwindel off waivers on July 18 and all he has done since then has hit. He is batting .363/.409/.670 for 182 wRC+ in the 46 games he has been o the team. He is only striking out 16% of the time and has an ISO of .307.
In the field Wilson Contreras leads the Cubs, though he gets a big boost from playing catcher — Fangraphs has him at the bottom of the list in catcher defense rankings (but still way above the person below him in last place: Salvador Perez).
Patrick Wisdom has had a steady year at third base. In limited time he ranks near the top of third baseman defensively.
Jason Heyward is still holding it down defensively in right field. He has struggled mightily at the plate this season, but he is still one of the top defensive right fielders.
The top pitcher for the Cubs had been closer Craig Kimbrel, but he was traded to the White Sox. In their four-game series the Cardinals will face Justin Steele, Zach Davies, Adrian Simpson, and Keegan Thompson.
Justin Steele is a lefty with 45 innings pitched this season. He has a decent strikeout rate at 23.4%, a somewhat high walk rate at 11.9%, and allows too many homers with a 1.8 HR/9. His ERA is 4.20 and his FIP is 4.11. He mostly throws a 4-seamer up in the zone, a sinker in the middle of the zone, and then a slider and curveball, rarely throwing in a changeup. His best pitch this season has been his slider. Lefties will see a good dose of them and have been very unsuccessful against it so far — there have been no hits off his slider from a lefty. With two strikes there is a pretty good chance he will throw it, especially to a left-handed hitter.
In the second game on Friday the Cardinals will face Zach Davies. The Cardinals have faced him quite a bit in his career — thirteen games so far — and seem to hit him pretty well with an OPS+ of 105 and ten homers. He throws primarily a sinker and changeup, and then throws in a cutter and curve. His changeup is usually his best pitch but this season it has been hit very well with 12 homers off the pitch. His sinker has fared even worse — it has eight homeruns against it with a .299 batting average.
On Saturday the Cardinals face Adrian Sampson. Sampson only has 25 innings pitched this season and in that time has a 2.84 ERA with a 5.73 FIP. His strikeout rate is low and his homerun rate has been high. Similar to Davies he throws a sinker that is all over the place, then complements that with a changeup thrown about 27% of the time. He has also thrown a slider, the occasional 4-seamer, and a cutter. There isn’t a lot of data on him, but it looks like his changeup might be pretty good and he likes to throw it to lefties. This one below is up in the zone but has a little bit of tailing action.
Keegan Thompson toes the rubber on Sunday. He has pitched just over 50 innings in his rookie season this season and has a 3.40 ERA with a 5.58 FIP. His strikeout rate is about average, his walk rate is high, and his HR/9 is 1.43. He throws mostly three pitches: a 4-seamer most of the time, then a cutter and curveball the rest of the time. He is also shows as having thrown a few changeups. His 4-seamer and curve have been pretty good, but the cutter not so much. The cutter has a .250 batting average against with a .554 slugging percentage. Just looking at the heat maps it does not look very-ideally located.
For comparison here is where Adam Wainwright (left) and Corbin Burnes, the best cutter in the game, (right) locate their cutters.
Friday, September 24 at 1:20 pm J.A. Happ vs. Justin Steele
Friday, September 24 at 7:05 pm Jack Flaherty vs. Zach Davies
Saturday, September 25 at 2:20 pm Jon Lester vs. Adrian Sampson
Sunday, September 26 at 1:20 pm Jake Woodford vs. Keegan Thompson