Once again, I checked in with John Fleming of our SB Nation Cardinals site Viva el Birdos for an update on our divisional rivals.
Although the Chicago Cubs are likely to have home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs, and the odds that the St. Louis Cardinals can overtake them for the N.L. Central title are approaching wins-the-lottery-twice levels of incredulity, their three-game set could have enormous ramifications on the latter's playoff chances.
While the Cardinals have had a winning record on the season against the Cubs, they will need to improve upon recent performance to continue this success: the Cardinals are coming off of a split against the Milwaukee Brewers and lost a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds just the weekend before. They will be led on the mound by Mike Leake, Jaime Garcia, and . While Leake sports a career-worst 4.61 ERA, his peripherals have been better and he leads the team's qualified pitchers in xFIP and SIERA. Garcia has struggled lately, with a 5.52 ERA and 4.95 FIP since the All-Star Break. Martinez has been the team's most well-rounded pitcher in 2016, and manager Mike Matheny has recently implied that he has the inside track to start the Wild Card game, if applicable.
Among position players, second baseman Kolten Wong and center fielder Randal Grichuk, each demoted to Triple-A Memphis this season, have played well lately, while Brandon Moss, one of the team's best hitters throughout the season, has just one hit (a single) in his last 46 plate appearances.
The Cardinals have lots of variance in their performance: if everybody is on their game, they can beat any team in baseball, but they also have enough players with cold streak potential that the Cubs could manhandle them. The safe bet is always that one team wins two of three, but at this point in the season, nothing would surprise me.
This one's going to be a bit longer than most things I put in this section, but it's a fun story.
During the bottom of the ninth that night, a steady drizzle that had fallen for most of the game became a downpour. Derrek Lee homered for the Cubs, breaking up a potential shutout. One out later Jeromy Burnitz singled. After Ben Grieve struck out for the second out, Yadier Molina tried to catch a foul popup hit by Neifi Perez -- this should have ended the game -- in the pouring rain and dropped it. Neifi eventually walked, after which Henry Blanco hit a grounder to shortstop David Eckstein that also should have ended the game. But Eckstein slipped in the dirt and Blanco, one of the slowest runners in the game, had an infield hit, loading the bases. That actually put the tying run on deck, making it a save situation, so Tony La Russa was going to bring in his closer, Jason Isringhausen.
At that point the umpires halted play and, an hour later, called the game. So the Cardinals had to celebrate their division clinching in the tiny visitors clubhouse at Wrigley, not on the field.
Hopefully, if the Cubs are in position to clinch at Busch Stadium this week, the weather will be nicer and they can do it on the field in front of what's likely to be a fairly large number of Cubs fans. It won't be easy -- the earliest they can clinch is Wednesday, and they'd have to sweep the series to do it.
But man, that'd be sweet.
Monday: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (14-7, 2.07 ERA, 0.988 WHIP, 3.36 FIP) vs. Mike Leake, RHP (9-9, 4.61 ERA, 1.299 WHIP, 3.84 FIP)
Tuesday: Jason Hammel, RHP (14-6, 3.50 ERA, 1.193 WHIP, 4.38 FIP) vs. Jaime Garcia, LHP (10-12, 4.58 ERA, 1.368 WHIP, 4.30 FIP)
Wednesday: Jon Lester, LHP (16-4, 2.51 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, 3.55 FIP) vs. Carlos Martinez, RHP (14-7, 3.05 ERA, 1.208 WHIP, 3.65 FIP)
Times & TV channels
Monday: 7:15 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and St. Louis markets)
Tuesday: 7:15 p.m. CT, ABC7 Chicago
Wednesday: 12:45 p.m. CT, ABC7 Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago and St. Louis markets)
The Cubs have won four of six played so far in St. Louis this year. I don't see any reason why they shouldn't take two of three here, especially since the Cardinals are just 32-39 at home this year (though a bit better since the All-Star break at Busch, 13-13). Note -- if the Cubs had stayed on their six-man rotation, Mike Montgomery would have taken the Wednesday start, but Lester is being moved up to start on normal (four days) rest. That's a much better matchup against Martinez than Montgomery would have been. (Montgomery's start has been moved to Thursday against Milwaukee.)
The Cubs return to Wrigley Field for the final regular-season homestand of 2016. First up, a four-game set against the Brewers, beginning Thursday night.