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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Cardinals NLDS Preview

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It's time for the Division Series against the Cardinals... and who's that guy who's doing the On The Horizon write-up?

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, everybody... I'm back. After sitting out the regular season with a case of season-long series preview writer's block, I am triumphantly (well, maybe that's a bit much) making my return to On The Horizon just in time for the Division Series against the Cardinals. And what a heck of a ride it should be.

The 19 games that were played against the Cardinals this season can really be thought of as a tale of two halves.  The Cubs played 10 of those 19 games at Busch Stadium and only won three, but the important part is that two of those three wins came in the final series on September 7-9. The same is true of the games at Wrigley Field; the Cubs won five of the nine matchups there, with four of those five wins coming in the final two series played on July 6-8 and September 18-20.  So while the overall tally of 8-11 for the season might not look that good, the 6-4 mark since the end of June paints a more accurate picture of how the Cubs match up than the 2-7 mark does in the first three months of the season.

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS:

Game 1: Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34 ERA, 1.122 WHIP, 2.92 FIP) vs. John Lackey (13-10, 2.77 ERA, 1.211 WHIP, 3.57 FIP)

Game 2: Kyle Hendricks (8-7, 3.95 ERA, 1.161 WHIP, 3.36 FIP) vs. Jaime Garcia (10-6, 2.43 ERA, 1.049 WHIP, 3.00 FIP)
Game 3: Michael Wacha (17-7, 3.38 ERA, 1.213 WHIP, 3.87 FIP) vs. Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP, 2.35 FIP)
Game 4*: Lance Lynn (12-11, 3.03 ERA, 1.369 WHIP, 3.44 FIP) vs. Jason Hammel (10-7, 3.74 ERA, 1.160 WHIP, 3.68 FIP)

* - If necessary

Lackey has by far and away had the most success against the Cubs this season, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.25 ERA and 1.108 WHIP in his three starts against them. The Cubs have not won any of the games this season that Lackey started, the last of which was on July 6.  The story is a lot different for Wacha and Lynn, whose number the Cubs have seemingly had all year.  Wacha posted a 6.86 ERA and 1.667 WHIP in four starts, with Lynn posting an even worse 7.64 ERA and 1.811 WHIP, also in four starts. The Cubs won six of the eight games that Wacha and Lynn started, including all four of Lynn's starts. This series will also be the first time that the Cubs will have faced Garcia since 2012.  If the series does go to five games, I would fully expect to see Lester and Lackey square off again in Game 5.

THE OFFENSE:

Here are the top names for the Cardinals, with each player's September/October OPS in parentheses:

  • Randal Grichuk, CF, .877 (.731)
  • Matt Carpenter, 3B, .871 (1.054)
  • Stephen Piscotty, LF, .853 (.756)
  • Tommy Pham, CF, .824 (.962)
  • Matt Holliday, LF, .804 (.536)
  • Jason Heyward, RF, .797 (.803)
  • Brandon Moss, 1B, .753 (.777)

According to the Cardinals' website on MLB.com, the plan is for Heyward to play center field while Grichuk shifts over to right as a result of his compromised throwing arm.  Piscotty will play left field and will possibly get time at first base.  It will be interesting to see how he plays after returning from a concussion suffered in a nasty outfield collision with Peter Bourjos on September 28. Yadier Molina is also on the Cardinals' postseason roster while still nursing torn ligaments in his left thumb. Of the players expected to be in the Cardinals' starting lineup, Piscotty has had the most success against the Cubs this season with an .884 OPS despite a .238 average.  If Piscotty plays first, that would likely open the door for Holliday and his .450 average and 1.110 OPS in 25 plate appearances to get time in left. Kolten Wong has also been a Cub killer this season, hitting .333 with an .847 OPS, and you know that Heyward is always dangerous regardless of whoever he's playing. Against the Cubs this season he has hit .324 with a .780 OPS.

The list on the Cubs' side (with September/October in parentheses):

  • Anthony Rizzo, .899 (.833)
  • Kris Bryant, .858 (.901)
  • Kyle Schwarber, .842 (.741)
  • Chris Coghlan, .784 (.827)
  • Dexter Fowler, .757 (.640)
  • Miguel Montero, .754 (.743)

The Cubs had a .253 average against the Cardinals this season, tied for fourth-best of all teams they played in 2015, but only managed a .716 OPS in the process, which ranks ninth in the list of their opponents this season. Rizzo has been superb against the Cardinals this season, with a .323 average and 1.017 OPS in 81 plate appearances. Next-highest of the expected starters is Starlin Castro, who hit .310 with an .812 OPS against St. Louis in 2015.  Chris Denorfia (.364 average, .917 OPS) and Jorge Soler (.308 average, .846 OPS) have also had success against the Cardinals this season while Schwarber will be searching for his first hit ever against the Cardinals in the Division Series. He's 0-for-12 with three walks against St. Louis this season.

SERIES PREDICTION: If the Cubs can pull out one of the first two games at Busch Stadium, I think that they have a better-than-average chance of playing -- and winning -- a clinching Game 4 at Wrigley Field next Tuesday. It's not going to be an easy road to a win in those first two games, however, unless the Cubs can find a way to solve the mystery that has been John Lackey this season. I really want to be confident in Hendricks' start in Game 2, and I know that he's been more than solid in his last two starts which included one against the Royals, but something about that game just has me worried. Maybe it's just the Cub fan in me.

As for a series prediction?  Sorry, but I'm going to wimp out and not actually make one. In the list of most-likely scenarios, though, I think in no particular order it would be either Cardinals in five or Cubs in four. So you can take those two options, tape them to the wall, chuck a dart at them with your eyes closed and see what you get when it lands. Just don't have me throw the dart, because I suck at darts and would probably miss both options entirely. Oh, and there's also a poll, so you can make your choice there as well.

NEXT STOP: It's either the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers or the Mets, or it's the end of a magical 2015 season. Let's hope that it's the former and not the latter.