The St. Louis Cardinals come into tonight's game one-half game ahead of the San Francisco Giants for the first wild-card spot in the National League and 1½ games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the N.L. Central.
This makes no logical sense. The Cardinals have a -12 run differential and a record that is six (!) games better than their Pythagorean mark. They are second-to-last in the major leagues with 496 runs scored -- even the offensively-challenged Cubs have more (501). It's not even their pitching; their 508 runs allowed ranks only 11th-best in baseball. They don't have a particularly outstanding record in one-run games (24-20, good but not great) and they have a losing record in blowouts (5+ run games; 15-17).
Perhaps the Cubs, who have added Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Chris Valaika, Logan Watkins, Matt Szczur, Jacob Turner, Kyuji Fujikawa and Zac Rosscup to the 25-man roster just since the last time they played the Cardinals a month ago, can put a dent in St. Louis' playoff hopes.
That would be sweet, wouldn't it?
One thing the Cubs are going to have to do is figure out how to play better within the N.L. Central. Outside the division the Cubs are essentially a .500 team this year -- 39-40. But they are just 20-34 against N.L. Central teams. That's the worst record of any team this year inside its own division, entering tonight's action. This does not bode well for the rest of this year, as 22 of the remaining 29 games are against N.L. Central clubs.
Fix that and the Cubs will be on the right road.
As usual, I commend you to Russ La Croix' excellent series preview, if you have not already read it.
Finally, here's your once-a-series reminder to check out (if you haven't already) SB Nation's partner fantasy site, Fan Duel, where you can win real money. Here's the link.
On to today's particulars.
Coghlan LF, Baez 2B, Castro SS, Valbuena 3B, Soler RF, Castillo C, Alcantara CF, Valaika 1B, Hendricks P
Carpenter 3B, Wong 2B, Holliday LF, Adams 1B, Peralta SS, Molina C, Taveras RF, Jay CF, Miller P
Today's Starting Pitchers
Well, you all know how big a Kyle Hendricks fan I am, and he has not disappointed so far. This is the first time he's faced a team twice -- he had a good outing against them at Wrigley July 27 even though he lost 1-0 on a solo homer by Matt Holliday -- so it'll be useful to watch to see if he can continue to keep a squad off balance the second time around. I would expect the same tonight, especially with St. Louis being an offensively-challenged squad that's 29th in the major leagues in runs.
Fun Hendricks fact: Since he allowed three runs in his first big-league inning, he has posted a 1.27 ERA in 49⅔ innings. Keep this up and there might be Rookie-of-the-Year votes in his future.
Shelby Miller threw 5⅔ decent innings against the Cubs July 26 at Wrigley Field, and the Cubs actually had the game tied when he left; the bullpen blew the game, one of the few bullpen failures this year. Miller has a 4.88 ERA in four starts in August and has walked 11 in 24 innings this month.
Today's game is on WGN.
Here is the complete MLB.com Mediacenter for today.
Baseball-reference.com game preview
Please visit our SB Nation Cardinals site Viva el Birdos.
For 2014, we are going to have the same game-thread routine as 2013. Here's how it works.
You'll find the game preview -- like this one -- posting as the first link in the StoryStream™, which will then contain all the overflow threads and the recap. The recap will also be on the front page as a separate post; once I post a game recap, the stream for each game will be retitled "Cubs vs. (Team) (Day of Week) Game Threads" so you can go back and find every thread related to that particular game.
In general, game previews will post two hours before game time. Exception: for day games after night games, that will usually be 90 minutes.
You will also be able to find the First Pitch Thread and all the overflow threads in the box marked "Chicago Cubs Game Threads" at the bottom of the front page (you can also find them in this section link). They will also appear in this StoryStream™. As I've done for each regular-season game for several years now, we'll have the First Pitch thread at five minutes before game time (moved up from actual game time per your requests), then an overflow one hour, two hours and 2:45 after game time.
Discuss amongst yourselves.