Three games. Four runs. Zero wins. And the trip's not over yet, folks.
Despite another decent outing for Edwin Jackson (especially by his standards), the Chicago Cubs offense once again came up short against the Atlanta Braves pitching, with the Cubs losing the final game of the series 5-2 and leaving Turner Field with no wins for the second straight year. The Cubs' record now stands at 12-24, which is the worst the team has been after 36 games since 1997. For those who might not remember (or have purposely blocked out) 1997, that was the year that the club went 0-14 to start the season.
After limping out of the southeast, the nine-game road trip makes its final stop a few hours from home, visiting St. Louis for the second time this year for a four-game set against the Cardinals. St. Louis comes into this series with a record of 19-19 after barely escaping Pittsburgh with a 6-5 win on Sunday night. The Cubs are 1-2 this year at Busch Stadium and are 3-3 against the Cardinals overall.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Monday - Travis Wood (2-4, 4.75 ERA, 1.440 WHIP) vs. Tyler Lyons (0-2, 3.43 ERA, 1.048 WHIP)
Tuesday - Jake Arrieta (0-0, 2.89 ERA, 1.714 WHIP) vs. Adam Wainwright (6-2, 2.02 ERA, 0.931 WHIP)
Wednesday - Jason Hammel (4-1, 2.45 ERA, 0.860 WHIP) vs. Michael Wacha (2-3, 2.85 ERA, 1.204 WHIP)
Thursday - Jeff Samardzija (0-3, 1.45 ERA, 1.054 WHIP) vs. Lance Lynn (4-2, 3.83 ERA, 1.319 WHIP)
While the Cardinals' pitching isn't as good as the Braves (then again, few things are), it's not much worse either (third in the NL in ERA, second in runs allowed per game). As luck wouldn't have it, the only starter the Cubs will not face this series happens to be the Cardinals' worst in Shelby Miller (3.22 ERA, 1.478 WHIP). Their relief pitching is still as solid as it was before, including crafty veterans Pat Neshek (1.15 ERA, 0.638 WHIP) and Randy Choate (2.38 ERA, 0.794 WHIP), and while closer Trevor Rosenthal (4.96 ERA, 1.408 WHIP) has made things interesting at times in his appearances, he has yet to blow a save in ten opportunities.
As for the Cubs, the day has finally arrived; Samardzija is now the benefactor of the worst run support in all of baseball for pitchers with four starts or more. I believe he gets a pewter trophy of the Monopoly man with his pockets inside-out as a reward. Congratulations, Jeff!
The Cardinals offense features three players whose OPS is currently at or above .750:
Things haven't gotten much better for the Cardinals offense since the last time the Cubs played them. They are currently third from the bottom in the National League in runs scored per game (3.68) and next to last in home runs (23). The struggles at second base are still plentiful, where Mark Ellis and Daniel Descalso each continue to hit under .200 and put up OPS numbers south of .500. Allen Craig also continues to scuffle in right field with a .633 OPS.
The trip to Atlanta didn't do any favors for the Cubs' offense, that's for sure. The OPS stars are still Anthony Rizzo (.886) and Starlin Castro (.773), but after that... well, let's put it this way. Third place on the team right now is Wood at .731. Former .750-plus members Welington Castillo and Emilio Bonifacio have continued to slide and now sit at .719 and .696. The Cubs rank 13th in the National League in the slash categories (AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS) and, as was pointed out in the Sunday recap, the outfield has combined for four home runs this year. After 36 games. That takes some work.
Wood has had bad starts in two of his last three, including his worst outing of the year in his last start. The main thing working for him is that the Cardinals continue to hit left-handed pitching worse than right-handed pitching (.229 vs. lefties, .254 vs. righties) and they have scored all of two runs in Lyons' three starts. The main question for the second game is which version of Arrieta will show up. I'm not sure if it will matter, though, as I don't think the Cubs will get to Wainwright three times in a row.
The best matchup of the series appears to be the third game between Hammel and Wacha. Hammel's last start against St. Louis was okay, but Wacha still has not allowed more than three runs in a start this season. As for the finale... well, I don't know what to say. It's the worst of the Cardinal starters that the Cubs will face in the series, but that certainly hasn't helped Shark so far. Might be time to sacrifice a live chicken.
RUSS' PREDICTION: 1-3. Before the final road game of the Cubs - Sox series, I said that if they were to win three of their next ten, they'd be doing well. One win has been notched so far. The second win should come somewhere in here, but I don't see the third.
NEXT STOP: The nine-game road trip comes to an end and the Cubs return to Wrigley... where they'll get a three-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers. I told you this month was going to be painful.