There are 29 games left in the season after the series that just ended in Cincinnati with the Cubs losing two out of three. Again. I guess my 2-1 pick for the series was a bit bold and daring, on second thought. With the series loss, the Cubs' record now stands at 59-74 and they are four games clear of the Arizona Diamondbacks (55-78) for third place in the National League reverse standings. They are still tied with the Minnesota Twins for seventh overall.
Of those 29 games remaining, the next 10 stand to be the most pivotal for the Cubs as they will be facing the top three teams in the NL Central who are currently separated by a total of four games from first to third place. First up on the docket is the second-place St. Louis Cardinals (71-61) who are 1½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the Central, the same gap they've had for six of the past seven games. They're also one-half game ahead of the San Francisco Giants for the top Wild Card spot and are returning home after a 2-4 Pennsylvania road trip in which they lost two of three to both the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs are 5-7 against the Cardinals this season and they are 2-4 at Busch Stadium.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Friday: Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.78 ERA, 1.007 WHIP) vs. Shelby Miller (8-9, 4.26 ERA, 1.380 WHIP)
Saturday Game 1: Felix Doubront (Cubs debut) vs. Tyler Lyons (0-3, 5.46 ERA, 1.321 WHIP)
Saturday Game 2: Tsuyoshi Wada (4-1, 2.56 ERA, 1.051 WHIP) vs. Justin Masterson (2-2, 7.43 ERA, 1.652 WHIP)
Sunday: Travis Wood (8-11, 4.72 ERA, 1.484 WHIP) vs. John Lackey (2-1, 4.50 ERA, 1.344 WHIP)
At this point, the Saturday pitching matchups for the Cardinals are still in flux as they haven't officially announced who will be starting in each game of the doubleheader. Masterson should be one of the two for sure as it will be his normal turn in the rotation, but I'm only including Lyons as the second starter because he's currently on the Cardinals' 25-man roster and was recalled from Triple-A Memphis last week. He also hasn't pitched since that recall. Word around the water cooler down here in St. Louis also has Marco Gonzales (0-2, 7.07 ERA, 2.286 WHIP) as a potential candidate; Gonzales was the Cardinals' first-round pick in 2013 and made three starts with the big club from June 25 to July 6 before being sent back down to Memphis. As always, stay tuned for further updates.
The Cardinals offense features five starters whose OPS is at or above .750:
- Matt Adams, 1B, .813
- Jhonny Peralta, SS, .794
- Jon Jay, CF, .778
- Matt Holliday, LF, .776
- Matt Carpenter, 3B, .762
There is an outside chance that Yadier Molina (.751) could be added to this list as well. He is currently on a rehab stint at Double-A Springfield and went 2-for-3 with an RBI double in his first game there. Offense has not been a problem for the Cardinals lately, though, even without him. They are fifth in the National League in average (.272) and seventh in OPS (.727) over the last two weeks, with Peralta, Jay, and Adams all putting up OPS numbers over .850 in that time span and Holliday posting a .795 of his own.
The list on the Cubs' side (with last two weeks in parentheses):
- Anthony Rizzo, .889 (.963)
- Chris Coghlan, .780 (.506)
- Starlin Castro, .764 (.756)
Missing from this list is Justin Ruggiano (.766), who is on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left ankle. Of course it helps that Jorge Soler has put up a 1.500 OPS in his first two games since taking over in right field, so the loss of Ruggiano isn't nearly as bad as it otherwise could have been. Luis Valbuena continues to hang around the door of the club, but just can't quite seem to find his way in at .748.
Game 1: Miller has been up-and-down all year for the Cardinals, and after three starts from July 26 to August 6 where his lowest game score was 58, his highest game score in his last three starts was 51. Hendricks had his lowest game score of the year in his last start (40), but that was largely due to only pitching two innings before a three-hour-plus rain delay ended his day. Hopefully he'll bounce back to form without any issues.
Games 2 and 3: All I can say for sure from the Cardinals' side is that Masterson's transition to the National League has been bumpy. He has allowed four runs or more in four of his five starts since joining St. Louis, but he did pitch seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball against Miami. Wada continues to be stellar for the Cubs, now with six starts in a row in which he has allowed two runs or less. As for Doubront, his last start was on June 20 against Oakland in which he allowed two hits and four walks in 4⅔ innings of work. His best game score for the season is 61, and with only three other starts this season above 50 expectations should be kept pretty low.
Game 4: The transition to the National League has not been nearly as rough for Lackey. Outside of a pounding that he took from Baltimore on August 9, his other four starts for St. Louis have all been good, allowing two runs or less in three of them. The big question for this game is just which Travis Wood will show up. Will it be the one who allowed two hits and no runs over six innings at Cincinnati, or will it be the one who allowed eight hits and four runs over six innings against San Francisco?
RUSS' PREDICTION: Man, this series is brutal. I want to call 2-2 just based on Hendricks and Wada, but being in the heart of Cardinal Nation I know just how amped up they are for these four games, even more so if Molina comes back. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm going to have to go with 1-3 on this trip.
NEXT STOP: The Cubs return home to face the two other teams from the N.L. Central, starting on Labor Day with three games against the Brewers.