Before the season, the St. Louis Cardinals were expected by most impartial observers, and even most fans, to finish behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central while battling the Pittsburgh Pirates for second place and remaining a viable contender for a Wild Card berth. And despite some recent struggles, this is precisely where the Cardinals find themselves.
Although Tuesday’s announcement that Michael Wacha will go on the Disabled List destabilizes the Cardinals rotation a little bit going forward, Saturday will now bring an exciting MLB debutante in Luke Weaver. Weaver, 22, made his Triple-A debut on Monday, but before that, he had been lights-out in Double-A, throwing 77 innings over 12 starts and yielding a 1.40 ERA and a 2.00 FIP. Although he lacks of the upside of fellow recent call-up Alex Reyes, Weaver has been the more consistent pitcher in 2016, exhibiting far more control.
The Cardinals’ offense has not truly regained its footing since the two best hitters on the team in 2016, Matt Carpenter and Brandon Moss, returned from the DL. While the offensive juggernaut that was the first half Cardinals was destined to regress, recent struggles against teams such as the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds have made the group look worse than it actually is.
As may be the case for the foreseeable future, the Cubs are series favorites. They are the better team and their young core is the envy of the rest of baseball for good reason. But the Cardinals’ youngsters, notably Reyes and Weaver, are hardly afterthoughts, and even if the Cubs maintain their current level of divisional dominance, the Cardinals at the very least have the resources to act as worthy foils.
The Cardinals are currently leading the season series five games to four, but the Cubs have outscored them 41-35 -- even though the Cardinals have outhomered the Cubs in the nine games 11-5.
Thursday: Jon Lester, LHP (12-4, 2.93 ERA, 1.094 WHIP, 3.83 FIP) vs. Carlos Martinez, RHP (10-7, 3.29 ERA, 1.203 WHIP, 3.86 FIP)
Friday: Jake Arrieta, RHP (13-5, 2.59 ERA, 1.033 WHIP, 2.99 FIP) vs. Adam Wainwright, RHP (9-6, 4.34 ERA, 1.322 WHIP, 3.33 FIP)
Saturday: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (11-7, 2.17 ERA, 1.023 WHIP, 3.35 FIP) vs. Luke Weaver, RHP (making his MLB debut)
Sunday: John Lackey, RHP (9-7, 3.56 ERA, 1.055 WHIP, 3.76 FIP) vs. Mike Leake, RHP (8-9, 4.79 ERA, 1.281 WHIP, 4.04 FIP)
Times & TV channels
Thursday: 7:05 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and St. Louis markets)
Friday: 1:20 p.m. CT, ABC7 Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and St. Louis markets)
Saturday: 1:20 p.m. CT, ABC7 Chicago
Sunday: 7:05 p.m. CT, ESPN
The Cubs are hot (winning 19 of their last 25). The Cardinals are not (losing seven of their last 11). The Cubs got swept in a three-game series the last time the Cardinals visited Wrigley, but that won't happen again. Even a split in this series would maintain the Cubs' 12-game lead in the N.L. Central while knocking four games off the schedule, but I think they'll take three of four, particularly with the favorable pitching matchups.