I'm going to lead off this season's On The Horizon with an advertisement / call for help of sorts. Having taken over Cub Tracks at the end of last season and with the soon-to-come start of Heroes and Goats for this season combined with new outside-of-BCB endeavors, this will be my last On The Horizon piece. This has always been a fun piece to do, but combined with everything else that's going on something was going to have to give, and this was it. Al and I are looking for someone to take over this piece and keep it going for the 2015 season and beyond, so if you're interested in writing up series previews and would like to write for BCB, this would be the perfect opportunity. You can send an e-mail to Al and let him know of your interest.
Wrigley Field may still be a work in progress, but baseball is back and hopes for a successful season -- and maybe even a playoff run -- spring eternal once again. Hopefully this year the Cubs will be able to get off to a good start in the month of April, something that hasn't happened since 2008, but there will be some tough challenges in the way of that including seven games in April against the Pittsburgh Pirates and this three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals. There are a few new faces in St. Louis this year, but most of the major names that were with the Cardinals in 2014 are back again this season. Here's a look at what to expect as well as who's new and who's gone in St. Louis:
POSSIBLE PITCHING MATCHUPS (with 2014 statistics listed):
Sunday: Adam Wainwright (20-9, 2.38 ERA, 1.031 WHIP) vs. Jon Lester (16-11, 2.46 ERA, 1.102 WHIP)
Tuesday: Lance Lynn (15-10, 2.74 ERA, 1.262 WHIP) vs. Jake Arrieta (10-5, 2.53 ERA, 0.989 WHIP)
Wednesday: John Lackey (14-10, 3.82 ERA, 1.278 WHIP) vs. Jason Hammel (10-11, 3.47 ERA, 1.123 WHIP)
The Wednesday pitching matchup is not yet official on MLB.com, but my best guess is that Lackey will get the nod. The Cardinals' other options are Michael Wacha (5-6, 3.20 ERA, 1.196 WHIP) and Carlos Martinez (2-4, 4.03 ERA, 1.410 WHIP) who has the final spot in the rotation due to an injury to Jaime Garcia. He is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left shoulder.
WHO'S NEW, WHO'S GONE FOR THE CARDINALS:
New faces: Carlos Villanueva (Cubs, 5-7, 4.64 ERA, 1.391 WHIP), Matt Belisle (Rockies, 4-7, 4.87 ERA, 1.438 WHIP), Mark Reynolds (Brewers, .196 AVG, .681 OPS), Jason Heyward (Braves, .271 AVG, .735 OPS)
Major departures: Allen Craig (Red Sox), Shelby Miller (Braves), Oscar Taveras.
Other departures: Daniel Descalso (Rockies), Mark Ellis (retired), Joe Kelly (Red Sox), Justin Masterson (Red Sox), Jason Motte (Cubs), Pat Neshek (Astros), A.J. Pierzynski (Braves), Shane Robinson (Twins).
Game 1: What better way to start the season than with a Wainwright-Lester faceoff. The Cubs had success against Wainwright at the beginning of last season but didn't score a run off of him in his final two starts against them. Of the five games that Wainwright started against the Cubs, St. Louis won four. Lester has only made one start against St. Louis, and that was back in 2008; he allowed nine hits and two runs in 7⅓ innings of work.
Game 2: The Cubs faced Lynn once last season, a 5-4 loss on May 4. He has been pretty good against the Cubs over a four-year span, posting a 3.18 ERA and a 1.171 WHIP in the games he's pitched against the Cubs. Arrieta made four starts against the Cardinals in 2014, posting a 1.21 ERA and a 1.075 WHIP over 22⅓ innings of work. The Cubs won two of the four games.
Game 3: Lackey started two games against the Cubs in 2014 and had mixed results, allowing two runs in one game and five in the other, although only two of the five runs were earned. The Cubs split the two games, winning 9-6 and losing 3-1. Hammel didn't have much luck last year against St. Louis, with the Cubs losing both of the games that he started thanks to eight earned runs over 11⅓ innings.
RUSS' PREDICTION: 2-1. If it's going to be a successful April, it's going to start on the right foot here.
NEXT STOP: The Cubs head out on a short road trip, playing a three-game set against the Colorado Rockies.