Six games to go, and it's all in the division from here on out. Just to put things in perspective: The Cubs' divisional record this year is currently 29-41, already four wins better than their record last year of 25-51. With two wins in their final six games they will tie their 2012 mark of 31 wins in the division. It is still possible for them to tie their 2009 and 2010 mark, but it would require a 5-1 finish to the season to hit the 34 wins from those years.
From a draft pick perspective, the first draft pick is now officially out of reach as the Arizona Diamondbacks have a 62-94 record compared to the Cubs' 69-87. With the Texas Rangers at 93 losses and the Houston Astros receiving the second pick overall as compensation for not signing Brady Aiken, the likely range for draft picks stands between fourth (Colorado Rockies, 65-91) and 11th (Cincinnati Reds, 72-84). It is still mathematically possible to get a pick outside of the protected range, but the magic number is now two (San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins, 74-81), so it's not looking likely for that scenario either.
The St. Louis Cardinals (87-69) will end the Cubs' home schedule for 2014 and while they have clinched a playoff berth, they still have some work to do to clinch the N.L. Central. They currently hold a 2½-game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and both teams will finish their seasons on the road. However, given that the Cardinals head to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks after this series is over, it's looking more and more like it's their division to lose at this point. If the Cubs or Pirates win one game in the next three days it will keep the Cardinals from being able to clinch the division at Wrigley Field, so hopefully there will be no celebrations by the opposition this year.
LIKELY PITCHING MATCHUPS:
Monday: Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.45 ERA, 1.045 WHIP) vs. Travis Wood (8-12, 4.86 ERA, 1.518 WHIP)
Tuesday: Shelby Miller (10-9, 3.68 ERA, 1.265 WHIP) vs. Kyle Hendricks (7-2, 2.28 ERA, 1.080 WHIP)
Wednesday: John Lackey (3-2, 4.50 ERA, 1.389 WHIP) vs. Jake Arrieta (9-5, 2.65 ERA, 1.016 WHIP)
If nothing else, at least the fans will get to see the Cubs' best two pitchers to end the year at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have played seven games against these three pitchers this year, including four previous matchups against Wainwright, and they have won two of the seven. Wainwright will be attempting to join Clayton Kershaw as the only 20-game winners in the major leagues in Monday night's game. With a win in Tuesday night's game Hendricks would become the only Cub in the past 100 years to win eight games in his first 13 career appearances, breaking the record of seven held by Geremi Gonzalez in 1997 and Kerry Wood in 1998.
The Cardinals currently have four starters whose OPS is at or above .750:
- Matt Holliday, LF, .811
- Jhonny Peralta, SS, .780
- Matt Adams, 1B, .777
- Jon Jay, CF, .758
Most of the Cardinal offense has been in a slump over the past two weeks, with a team average of .241 and OPS of .673 ranking tenth and eighth in the National League in that time period. The past week has been even rougher for them, with the numbers dropping to .220 and .629. Kolten Wong and Daniel Descalso have done well in their returns to the lineup, though, posting OPS numbers of 1.271 and .785, along with Holliday at .804 in the team's last six games.
The list on the Cubs' side (with last two weeks in parentheses):
- Jorge Soler, 1.083 (.984)
- Anthony Rizzo, .895 (1.039)
- Chris Coghlan, .801 (1.010)
- Luis Valbuena, .781 (.873)
Coghlan rises above the .800 mark once again this season thanks to a huge weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers, including his monstrous 4-for-4 Saturday with two homers in the Cubs' 8-7 win. The power game for the Cubs has surged in the past two weeks, with their .724 OPS ranking fourth in the National League despite a .246 average, which ranks seventh.
Game 1: It's a shame that this game couldn't have featured Arrieta or Hendricks against Wainwright. This will be Wood's fifth start against the Cardinals this year and the Cubs have won three of the previous four games, but in most cases it's been in spite of Wood's pitching performance. He has allowed three runs or more in each of those games and four or more in three of them, but the bats have come alive each time with the Cubs scoring a total of 36 runs including a 17-5 rout on May 12. Wainwright has had three dominant starts in a row, including two complete games, and has allowed only two runs in his last 26 innings of work.
Game 2: Hendricks has had two starts against the Cardinals this year and they were both good. He allowed three runs in total over 12⅓ innings and posted game scores of 56 and 57. Miller has also been very solid lately, giving up only five runs total in his last five starts while notching game scores of 60 or better each time.
Game 3: This pitching matchup favors the Cubs the most with Lackey continuing to have an up-and-down time with the Cardinals. His last outing against the Reds on September 19 was good, allowing one run in 7⅔ innings of work, but his two previous outings were both rough affairs. Arrieta has only given up three runs in his three previous outings against St. Louis but the Cubs have only won one of those games thanks to two bullpen implosions, including his last start against them on July 26.
RUSS' PREDICTION: 2-1. It's the final home series of the year, and it's the Cubs' best pitchers in them. Well, other than Wood.
NEXT STOP: In a series that will likely be for pride and not much else, the Cubs say goodbye to the 2014 season with a trip just up the road against the Milwaukee Brewers.