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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Cardinals Series Preview

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Well. Here we are, a key Cubs/Cardinals series in September. Fun! (Right?)

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
ST. LOUIS -- As I did the last time these two clubs met, I turn to Ben Humphrey, manager of SB Nation's Cardinals site Viva el Birdos, to tell us about his team as this key series begins.
The St. Louis Cardinals' rotation has gotten a lot of press this season. And with good reason. It has been excellent this season. 

Making the group's effort all the more impressive is that it has been missing staff ace Adam Wainwright, who went down with a torn Achilles tendon after logging just 25 innings pitched. That was a particularly big loss for the Cardinals. Wainwright is an elite run suppressor and an innings eater, tallying 227 innings a year ago and leading the league with 241⅔ in 2013. Losing the staff workhorse was even more problematic given the questions the Cards faced when it came to Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez's respective workloads entering the season. 

In the NCAA or as a pro, Wacha had never totaled more than 147 2/3 innings in a regular season. He threw that many in 2013 and wound up with 178 1/3 under his belt after the World Series. Wacha tallied just 109 innings a year ago due to a rare shoulder condition that landed him on the DL for a good chunk of the season. 

Martinez had never thrown more than 108 innings in a regular season before this year. And he reached that total in 2013. Last season, Martinez notched 99⅔ innings between the rotation and bullpen. 

Wacha and Martinez have helped fill the innings-pitched void left by Wainwright. Wacha has averaged 6.29 innings per start; Martinez, 6.19. That's good. The downside, though, is that both pitchers are in or will soon be entering uncharted waters with respect to their workloads. Martinez has blown past his previous personal high. Wacha will likely surpass his 2013 total (including October) before the end of September.

Consequently, the Cardinals took their series last week against the Nationals to give each youngster a turn-of-the-rotation off. Martinez was experiencing back tightness, so the club rested him. St. Louis then gave Wacha Wednesday night off. General manager John Mozeliak explained that they wanted to sit the two against non-division opponents, which set Wacha up to start Tuesday against the Cubs. We'll see how the plan works out this series as well as in the weeks to come.

Pitching matchups

Monday: Dan Haren (8-9, 3.89 ERA, 1.146 WHIP, 4.92 FIP) vs. Lance Lynn (11-8, 2.80 ERA, 1.327 WHIP, 3.29 FIP)

Tuesday: Jason Hammel (7-6, 3.55 ERA, 1.116 WHIP, 3.66 FIP) vs. Michael Wacha (15-4, 2.69 ERA, 1.125 WHIP, 3.27 FIP)

Wednesday: Jon Lester (9-10, 3.59 ERA, 1.214 WHIP, 3.08 FIP) vs. Carlos Martinez (13-7, 3.04 ERA, 1.290 WHIP, 3.37 FIP)

Prediction

I probably shouldn't write anything here at all, because just about anything I say could wind up wrong. The Cubs are obviously a better team than they were the last time they came to St. Louis; the Cubs are 37-22 since that series and the Cardinals 35-24 since that dreadful sweep by the Cardinals in which the Cubs scored only four total runs. You might remember that the last game of that June series, a Sunday night, was interrupted by severe thunderstorms where a tornado was spotted not far from Busch Stadium. Weather could be a factor in this series, too, as storms are in the forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday. This series is unusual for a weekday set as two of the three games (Monday and Wednesday) will be afternoon affairs.

Have I been avoiding making a prediction? Well, kinda, yeah. All right, here's one: The Cubs won't get swept. They'll win at least one of these games. If things break right, maybe they can win the set. The last time a Cubs team won a series in St. Louis was August 8-10, 2013. Perhaps it's time for that to change.

The preview for Monday afternoon's contest will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.

Up next

The Cubs head to Philadelphia for a four-game series with the Phillies, the only team they have faced and not defeated yet this year.