And just like that the Cubs have back-to-back shots at winning their first series in over a week. And hey! It comes against their divisional rivals and NL Central leading St. Louis Cardinals … in their own home, no less!
However, if the Cubs are going to pull it off, they’ll have to do it short-handed. Kris Bryant isn’t starting today (illness), Addison Russell is limited (sore shoulder), Jon Jay left last night’s contest (back spasms), and Jason Heyward is still on the disabled list (knuckle). The Cubs are quite fortunate to have an extremely versatile group of positional players (Ben Zobrist and Javy Baez alone make just about any loss sustainable in the short term – though even Zobrist is reportedly still dealing with back issues). In the face of injuries, it’s definitely an enviable position.
The Cubs get a boost in the form of Ian Happ, who is coming up for his big league debut.
But maybe the Cubs won’t need a ton of offense today, with Jon Lester on the hill. Lester’s last start (against the Yankees) was arguably his best of the season, but you might not remember it much. He went seven innings while allowing just one earned run on three hits and two walks … but it all came before 12 more innings (and a Cubs’ loss) played out at Wrigley Field.
Lester got nine strikeouts in that one, against a very potent and not necessarily easy to strike out Yankees team (21.9 K% – 18th in MLB). And, according to Brooks Baseball, he earned those strikeouts the hard way: 17 whiffs. If he can keep that up today, though, the Cubs will probably be in good shape.
Opposing Lester and the Cubs this afternoon from Busch Stadium, is Cardinals’ de facto ace, Carlos Martinez. Martinez hasn’t yet gotten the results he’s used to seeing this season (3.86 ERA) and the peripherals aren’t much stronger (3.83 FIP), but there’s not nothing to fear here. Martinez is carrying a very nice 27.5% strikeout rate and is allowing just a .227 average against. In fact, if it weren’t for his ballooned walk rate (9.3%), he’d probably be in really good shape.
Martinez’s last start was mediocre (6.0 IP, 3ER, 2BB, 7Ks, 2HRs), but if you recall, he dominated this Cubs’ team on Opening Night: 7.1 IP, 6H, 0BB, 10Ks. He can be one of the better pitchers in baseball when he’s on, so let’s hope he’s not on today.
A win this afternoon takes the series, and takes some pressure off tomorrow. Even though the Cubs are short-handed, I think they can get it done. Maybe I’m just giddy from Happ-induced optimism.
Chicago Cubs (18-17) at St. Louis Cardinals (19-15) – 3:05 CT on ABC-7, FS1, 670 The Score
Game Thread and Series Preview
Your game thread is down in the comments, so let’s have some good, clean (safe-for-work) fun today.
Cubs: Jon Lester (L): 3.27 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 3.77 xFIP; 2.50 K/BB
Cardinals: Carlos Martinez (R): 3.86 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 3.24 xFIP; 2.94
St. Louis Cardinals:
- Dexter Fowler, CF
- Aledmys Diaz, SS
- Matt Carpenter, 1B
- Jedd Gyorko, 3B
- Yadier Molina, C
- Greg Garcia, 2B
- Tommy Pham, LF
- Magneuris Sierra, RF
- Carlos Martinez, P
Chicago Cubs Lineup:
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Ian Happ, RF
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Jeimer Candelario, 3B
- Tommy La Stella, 2B
- Willson Contreras, C
- Javy Baez, SS
- Jon Lester, P
- Albert Almora, CF