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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Cardinals Series Preview

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Yes, this series is important.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Well, here we are.

Cubs/Cardinals series are always fun and entertaining and this one takes on more meaning since the Cubs are contending for a wild-card spot. Eight and a half games out of first place, is it impossible for the Cubs to win the N.L. Central? No, but it'd take a lot of Cubs winning and Cardinals losing to make that a reality.

Even so, the Cubs can help establish themselves as true contenders by winning this series. That will not be easy, as the Cardinals are dominating just about everyone in baseball. I asked Ben Humphrey, head of the SB Nation Cardinals site Viva el Birdos to tell us a bit about his team:

The St. Louis Cardinals enter this series with the best record in baseball. After sweeping the Marlins, the Cardinals' winning percentage is .667, which would result in 108 wins over a full season. No other MLB club has a winning percentage over .600 today. That's as good an illustration as any of just how good St. Louis has been in the season's opening months.

Lest you think the Cards' success is a mirage, St. Louis currently owns a +87 run differential, the best in the major leagues. Next best is the Blue Jays at +81. For those wondering, the Dodgers sit at +59 entering play on Friday, the Royals are at +52 and the Astros round out the top five at +51. The Cubs rank 12th at +18.

The Cardinals were a middle-of-the-road batting team even before Matt Holliday hit the DL with a torn quad. At present they place in the middle-of-the-NL pack in runs scored and the major hitting categories. That seems unlikely to change much even as individual Cardinals see their 2015 hitting lines even out with the ebb and flow of offensive production that defines the 162-game marathon. The Cardinals are unlikely to outscore their opponents in the way their mid-2000s predecessors could. They are more likely to suffocate the opposition's offense.

The Cardinals' success is due to the way general manager John Mozeliak has built the club. The St. Louis front office has placed an emphasis on run prevention. In other words, the foundation of their success is pitching and defense.

The Cardinals have allowed the fewest runs in baseball this year and it isn't particularly close. Opponents have plated 207 runs against St. Louis through the club's first 72 games. That's an average of 2.9 per game. The Cards staff has accomplished this despite ace Adam Wainwright tearing his Achilles after hurling just 25 innings on the year and Lance Lynn landing on the DL earlier this month with a forearm strain. Lynn returned Thursday, throwing six shutout innings against the Marlins, and resumes the role of de facto staff ace in Wainwright's absence, even as Micahel Wacha, John Lackey, Carlos Martinez, and Jaime Garcia consistently turn in ace-quality starts themselves.

Pitching matchups

Game One: Jake Arrieta (7-5, 3.07 ERA, 1.088 WHIP, 2.90 FIP) vs. John Lackey (6-4, 3.41 ERA, 1.216 WHIP, 3.42 FIP)

Game Two: TBD vs. Michael Wacha (9-3, 2.85 ERA, 1.087 WHIP, 3.21 FIP)

Game Three: Jason Hammel (5-2, 2.65 ERA, 0.938 WHIP, 3.03 FIP) vs. Carlos MartinezCarlos Martinez (8-3, 2.89 ERA, 1.260 WHIP, 3.60 FIP)

Prediction

As of the time of this post, we still don't know who will start Saturday's game for the Cubs. Thursday, Joe Maddon indicated that Tsuyoshi Wada, whose turn it would be, might still be able to make the start. If not, I'd think Travis Wood, who threw 53 pitches in relief of Wada on Monday, would take the start. It doesn't seem logical for the Cubs to make a roster move and call someone up from Triple-A (especially since that would mean a move to the 40-man roster, too) to make this start.

The Cubs are 2-4 against the Cardinals this year, but only one of the six games has been decided by more than three runs, and three have been one-run games, so the run differential in favor of the Cardinals in the six games is just +8 (30-22). The Cubs are one of only four teams (Tigers, Rockies, Phillies) to score nine or more runs in a game against the Cardinals this year.

As noted by Ben Humphrey, the Cardinals have been very stingy with allowing runs this year. The Cubs will have to do the same to win games this weekend. I'd love for the Cubs to win the set two games to one, but that will be tough. One out of three, unfortunately, is my prediction.

Up next

The Cubs have Monday off, then head to New York to play a three-game series against the Mets at Citi Field starting Tuesday.