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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Cardinals Series Preview

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The Cubs took two of three in St. Louis. Can they do the same this weekend at Wrigley?

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Heather Simon, better known as "lil_scooter93" at SB Nation's Cardinals site Viva el Birdos, graciously agreed to write a few things about her team in advance of this weekend's series.

Before the season even began the Cardinals had two main questions:

1. Will Jason Heyward become the player the Cardinals believe he is?

2. Will Carlos Martinez take a step up in his evolution to a full time starter?

While the season is not over yet, I think it is safe to say the answer to both is "yes." 

After the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals found themselves shocked and brokenhearted, looking at not only a gaping hole in right field for 2015, but for 2016, 2017, 2018 and beyond. Oscar was poised to become a lineup fixture for years to come, and in the blink of an eye, everything changed. To fill that void, the team did something a little out of character, taking a big risk in trading away young, cost-controlled pitching for a young, talented, but possibly unrealized, soon-to-be free agent in Heyward. After a slow (and I mean SLOW) start, Jason has become the Cardinals most valuable player with 4.9 fWAR (which as of writing this ranks sixteenth in baseball).. His wRC+ of 121 is the best it has been since 2010, his defense and baserunning are excellent per usual, and his beautiful smile and charm have made him a fan favorite. #SignJasonHeyward

The cost-controlled talent dealt away when acquiring Jason was the young starter Shelby Miller. This was made possible because of the existence of long-time Viva el Birdos darling Carlos Martinez. Carlos flew on the radar with his overpowering fastball, filthy changeup, and a slider that is just unfair, but truly claimed our hearts with his fun-loving, adorable personality (even going so far as to embrace our weird nickname for him, "El Gallo"). But even with that, questions remained on whether his smaller frame and style of pitching would translate to a starters' workload. Carlos has not only held up, but excelled in the role, leading the starting pitching staff in fWAR with 3.3 and K/9 and K% at 9.39 and 25%, respectively (as of 9/16). 

When the season began, these questions seemed minor: things that would be nice, but were not truly important. This changed after the injuries to Adam Wainwright, Jordan Walden, Matt Belisle, Matt Holliday, Matt Adams, Randal Grichuk, and Jon Jay. While almost every player has contributed in some way - the surprise resurgence of Jaime Garcia, Matt Carpenter's power-hitting renaissance, and the revelation that is Stephen Piscotty all warrant mention here -- the impact of Jason Heyward and Carlos Martinez is proving to be the key difference in a season sculpted by tragedy.

Fun fact

The Cardinals have two former Cubs on their roster: Carlos Villanueva and Miguel Socolovich. The only former Cardinal on the Cubs' active roster is Dan Haren. (Jason Motte, a former Cardinal, is still on the DL.)

Pitching matchups

Friday: Dan Haren (9-9, 3.87 ERA, 1.191 WHIP, 4.87 FIP) vs. Lance Lynn (11-10, 3.17 ERA, 1.359 WHIP, 3.48 FIP)

Saturday: Bullpen Guys vs. Michael Wacha (16-5, 2.96 ERA, 1.153 WHIP, 3.56 FIP)

Sunday: Jon Lester (10-10, 3.38 ERA, 1.158 WHIP, 2.96 FIP) vs. Carlos Martinez (13-7, 3.02 ERA, 1.292 WHIP, 3.23 FIP)

Prediction

Well, heck if I know. The last time Haren and Lynn matched up, September 7 in St. Louis, the Cubs absolutely pounded Lynn out of the game by the third inning and Haren had his best start in over a year. If you expect that to happen again, I'd like you to give me some winning Powerball numbers, too. The Cubs also hit Wacha hard in the last series. I'd love a repeat of that. Saturday is another "bullpen day," and we still don't know who will start that one (it's likely going to be Trevor Cahill, but at this writing that's not official). And you know what Lester did to the Cardinals in the St. Louis series, and Lester seems fired up to have a great September.

With great trepidation I say the Cubs take two of three in this one, too.

Up next

The Cubs host the Milwaukee Brewers for a three-game series that begins Monday night at Wrigley Field.