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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Cardinals Series Preview

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The homestand continues as the Cubs play their fourth series of the year against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

I knew I should have said 1-2 on that Padres series. Man, that Kool-Aid will get you every time.

With 100 games of the 2014 season now in the books, the Cubs own a 41-59 record after suffering a 13-3 thrashing at the hands of the San Diego Padres in the rubber match of the three-game series.  The National League cellar is once again within clear view, but still slightly out of reach as the Colorado Rockies (41-60) refuse to relinquish their grip on it. At least, for now. After 100 games last year the Cubs were 45-55; hopefully August and September this year will go a little bit better than it did last year. Or a lot better.

The 10-game homestand continues as the Cubs return to divisional play for three games and take on the St. Louis Cardinals for the first time since mid-May. St. Louis comes into the series with a record of 54-47, three games behind the Milwaukee Brewers after being swept in a two-game series at home by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Cubs are 4-5 so far in the season series and are 2-1 at Wrigley Field, winning the first three-game set on May 2-4.

LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Friday: Joe Kelly (2-1, 2.84 ERA, 1.303 WHIP) vs. Travis Wood (7-9, 5.12 ERA, 1.526 WHIP)
Saturday: Shelby Miller (7-8, 4.25 ERA, 1.482 WHIP) vs. Jake Arrieta (5-2, 2.12 ERA, 1.012 WHIP)
Sunday: Adam Wainwright (12-5, 2.02 ERA, 0.953 WHIP) vs. Kyle Hendricks (1-0, 2.77 ERA, 1.231 WHIP)

It's hard to believe, but of the 32 earned runs allowed by Wainwright this season (in 20 starts!), 12 of them have been at the hands of the Cubs. Unfortunately, the Cubs only have one win to show for it when they roughed him up for 10 hits over five innings and won 6-5 on May 2.

The Cubs have not faced Miller this season; the only time they saw him as a starter was on June 17, 2013 in a 5-2 loss. They have faced Kelly once this season and won 6-3, but Kelly was only responsible for one of the runs with the rest of the damage coming against the Cardinal bullpen.

THE OFFENSE:

The Cardinals offense features four starters whose OPS is at or above .750:

  • Matt Adams, 1B, .863
  • Jhonny Peralta, SS, .784
  • Matt Holliday, LF, .774
  • Matt Carpenter, 3B, .755

Absent from the list is catcher Yadier Molina (.751) who is on the disabled list with a torn ligament in his right thumb and will probably be out of action until late in the season. His absence is definitely being felt as replacements Tony Cruz and recently-acquired George Kottaras have not been able to pick up the slack, posting OPS numbers of .568 and .533 respectively.  The Cardinals are still second-worst in the National League at scoring runs, currently sitting at 3.68 runs per game despite being near the league averages in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS.

The list on the Cubs' side (with last two weeks in parentheses):

  • Anthony Rizzo, .924 (1.308)
  • Arismendy Alcantara, .859 (.797)
  • Chris Coghlan, .820 (1.097)
  • Justin Ruggiano, .799 (.739)
  • Starlin Castro, .759 (.594)

Castro is still trying to find his way out of a rough July; since the Washington series ended he has gone 10-for-52 and his OPS has dropped 38 points from its .797 mark. He has not been under then .750 mark since the Miami series on June 8. Since it appears that Alcantara will be sticking around with the big club as a result of the recent departure of Darwin Barney, I'm officially adding him to the list and hoping that he'll stay there for the foreseeable future.

GAME PROJECTIONS:

Game 1: Kelly has been out of action for a majority of the season; he has only made two starts since spending almost three months on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. He got rocked in his first start back against Milwaukee but had a solid outing against the Dodgers, allowing only four hits and one walk over seven innings. The downward spiral for Wood has still not found a bottom, and he has not posted a game score over 35 in three of his past four starts. I'm not sure where the old Travis Wood went, but I really hope he comes back soon. Because this other Travis Wood is painful to watch.

Game 2: If there's one game to be had in this series, this one is it. Miller has been in a funk of his own with five consecutive starts where he has allowed at least three runs, and one of those outings didn't even last three innings. Arrieta hasn't been as sharp in July as he was in June, and he hasn't won a game since June 30 at Boston. He has still been good, with game scores of 59 and above his July starts, but just not the dominant figure that he was for most of June. Hopefully in this game it won't matter if he's merely good.

Game 3: After seven starts in a row in which he pitched at least seven innings and allowed two runs or less - including three starts in which he allowed none - Wainwright was hit pretty hard against the surging Rays, allowing six hits and four walks in just short of five innings of work in his last start. Is it possible that the Cubs could get to Wainwright three times in one season? Well, anything's possible, but I certainly wouldn't bet on it. Let's just hope that Hendricks can build on the good start he had last time and take it from there.

RUSS' PREDICTION: 1-2. No doubt about this one. It's Saturday or bust.

NEXT STOP: The 10-game homestand comes to a close as the Cubs play their first four games of the season against the Colorado MASH Unit Rockies. Just who will hold the keys to the cellar after the series is complete?...