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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. Cardinals Series Preview

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This is the Cubs' first real test of 2016.

Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Last time the Cubs saw the Cardinals, they were defeating them in the 2015 Division Series.

That was fun. So is the fact that the Cubs won six of the last nine regular-season games from the Cardinals in 2015. This after a long time of Cardinal dominance.

And so now we begin, the first three of 19 regular-season games between these two longtime rivals. It's entirely possible that the teams might meet again in the 2016 postseason.

Fun fact

While the Cubs have two players on their active roster who previously played for the Cardinals, and significant ones (John Lackey and Jason Heyward), the Cardinals have zero ex-Cubs on their 25-man roster.

Here are some things you'll want to know about the Cardinals, courtesy of John Fleming of our SB Nation Cardinals site Viva El Birdos:

Considering they won 100 games in 2015, there was a fair amount of pessimism surrounding the Cardinals entering the season. The team lost its best pitcher and best position player from the previous season, and while the 98-win Pirates remained tough and the 97-win Cubs improved, the Cardinals seemed to lose some firepower.

After an 0-3 start, the Cardinals have had an upswing with the help of some unlikely sources. After barely cracking the Opening Day roster, 28-year old rookie Jeremy Hazelbaker has been the team's best hitter. Aledmys Diaz, removed from the 40-man roster in 2015 and in Triple-A this year before an injury to Tommy Pham, has also crushed big league pitching thusfar. Following four consecutive seasons wrought with injuries, Jaime Garcia has looked sharp in his first two starts of 2016, particularly in a one-hit shutout with just one walk and 13 strikeouts in his last outing.

The Cardinals have feasted on the Braves, Brewers, and Reds since being swept by the Pirates in the first series of the season, and a three-game set against the Cubs may act as a litmus test for whether the Cardinals will compete for an N.L. Central title by winning battles against contenders, or whether they will settle for the Wild Card contention that beating up on the league's cellar dwellers alone could bring. While the lineup's bats have heated up, the Cubs will have easily the most formidable starters the Cardinals have faced since Pittsburgh and this series may provide a glimpse as to whether this lineup can compete against the top teams in the National League.

Pitching matchups

Monday: John Lackey (2-0, 5.68 ERA, 1.421 WHIP, 4.40 FIP) vs. Mike Leake (0-1, 6.97 ERA, 1.839 WHIP, 3.23 FIP)

Tuesday: Jason Hammel (1-0, 1.75 ERA, 1.250 WHIP, 3.39 FIP) vs. Jaime Garcia (1-0, 2.40 ERA, 0.667 WHIP, 1.40 FIP)

Wednesday: Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 2.84 ERA, 0.947 WHIP, 1.79 FIP) vs. Carlos Martinez (1-0, 3.46 ERA, 1.077 WHIP, 3.37 FIP)

Prediction

After quite some time, as noted above, of Cardinals dominance of this rivalry, the Cubs turned it around starting in mid-July last year. Adding up the regular season and postseason, the Cubs have won nine of the last 13 games between these two clubs. Tuesday will be a tough game to win; even though Hammel's been good, Garcia also has been very good so far this year. I'm still calling for a Cubs series win, two games to one.

Up next

The Cubs head to Cincinnati for a four-game series against the Reds starting Thursday evening.