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Series Preview: Cardinals at Cubs, September 15 – September 17, 2017

Series Previews

This weekend’s series against the St. Louis Cardinals is about as big as a regular season series gets, but, come on, are you nervous? You made it through World Series Games, 5, 6, and 7. You’re a monster. You can do this, and so can the Cubs.


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And, of course, here’s the best part, in the absolute worst case scenario, the Cubs will still find themselves tied for first place when the weekend’s over. That’s obviously quite terrifying, but it would hardly be the end of the season.

And, hey, if we’re gonna think about the worst case scenario, why can’t we think about the best case? Imagine yourself, for a minute, going to bed on Sunday night, having watched the Cubs sweep the Cardinals at Wrigley Field in three straight games while the Marlins wrap up their third straight victory over the Brewers, as well.

That’s a reality worth fighting for.

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (80-66) just swept the New York Mets in three straight at Wrigley Field after being swept in three straight by the Brewers in the same location. They have a 3.0 game lead over the Cardinals and Brewers in the NL Central and their magic number is 14.


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The St. Louis Cardinals (77-69) just beat the Reds in two out of three after sweeping the Pirates at Busch Stadium. They’re 3.0 games behind the Cubs, tied for second place in the NL Central.

Game Times and Broadcasts

Location: Wrigley Field

  • Friday, September 15 at 1:20 CT on ABC-7, 670 The Score
  • Saturday, September 16 at 3:05 CT on CSN-C+, 670 The Score
  • Sunday, September 17 at 1:20 CT on CSN-C, 670 The Score

Expected Starters and Lineups

These lineups are likely to be pretty close to what gets fielded, but you’ll want to check each day’s Lineup or Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.

Chicago Cubs

Starters:

  • John Lackey (4.65 ERA, 5.26 FIP, 4.56 xFIP; 2.98 K/BB) – R
  • Kyle Hendricks (3.35 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 3.96 xFIP; 2.78 K/BB) – R
  • Jose Quintana (4.25 ERA, 3.88 FIP, 3.84 xFIP; 3.12 K/BB) – L

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  2. Kris Bryant, 3B
  3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  4. Willson Contreras, C
  5. Kyle Schwarber, LF
  6. Jon Jay/Ian Happ, CF
  7. Jason Heyward, RF
  8. Javy Baez, SS
  9. Pitcher

St. Louis Cardinals

Starters:

  • Carlos Martinez (3.33 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 3.56 xFIP; 3.17 K/BB) – R
  • Michael Wacha (3.99 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 3.90 xFIP; 2.90 K/BB) – R
  • Lance Lynn (3.01 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 4.73 xFIP; 2.09 K/BB) – R

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Matt Carpenter, 3B
  2. Tommy Pham, LF
  3. Paul DeJong, SS
  4. Jose Martinez, 1B
  5. Yadier Molina, C
  6. Kolton Wong, 2B
  7. Harrison Bader, CF
  8. Randal Grichuk/Stephen Piscotty, RF
  9. Pitcher

*Double-Agent Dexter Fowler has been sidelined since Saturday and may not play against the Cubs this weekend (as planned). (UPDATE: Yup, he’s not in the lineup this afternoon).


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Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

John Lackey is pitching for the Cubs this afternoon, and he’s had a fair bit of success against the Cardinals throughout his career, including this season. Indeed, he faced them in his first start of the year, this year, and went 6.0 innings, allowing just three earned runs on six hits and two walks against seven strikeouts.

Later, in his second start against the Cardinals of 2017, Lackey lasted 7.0 full innings, surrendering just two earned runs on four hits and two walks against six strikeouts. If today’s start falls somewhere in between those, I think we’d all be thrilled.


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Jose Quintana has now thrown three consecutive quality starts for the Cubs, as he begins to settle in. He may play an extremely important role in this series on Sunday, so he’s gotten hot at just the right time.

Chicago Cubs – Offense

Ben Zobrist has five multi-hit games in his last eight starts, dating back to September 3rd. During that stretch, he’s hitting .429/.528/.571 (190 wRC+), while walking (19.4%) more than he’s striking out (16.7%).

Given the Cubs top of the order questions, I can not stress enough how absolutely ENORMOUS it would be if Zobrist decided to heat up (and stay hot) right now.

In his nine plate appearances since returning from the disabled list, Willson Contreras has recorded two hits, three walks, and 3 RBI (.400/.667/.400). If he really is going to pick up where he left off, the Cubs top four looks downright formidable.


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And you might even be able to extend that to their top five, if Kyle Schwarber keeps up the pace he’s been on lately. Consider since August 15, Schwarber’s slashing .273/.349/.571 with seven homers and two doubles. His walk rate during that stretch remains high (10.5%) and his strikeout rate has crept down to 27.9%.

This is an offense that can score a ton of runs.

St. Louis Cardinals – Pitching

Unfortunately, this is also a pretty strong Cardinals rotation, which has earned a 3.68 ERA in the second half of the season (6th best in MLB).

But let’s take a closer look at today’s starter, Carlos Martinez, because I think there’s some reason for optimism. At first glance, yes, Martinez has earned a career best 3.4 fWAR this season and, as one of the better pitchers in the NL, has a strong strikeout rate, solid walk rate.

But I notice some other things, too.

Specifically, it seems the HR spike has reached Martinez this year, as his 16.0% HR/FB ratio is well above his career average before this season (9.2%). And on top of that, his fly ball ratio has increased from 26.2% to 29.8% this season. Moreover, his hard-hit rate has spiked from a really quite excellent 27.9% before 2017, up to a more mediocre 31.5% this season.


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In short: Because of the extra hard contact, more of his fly balls are leaving the ballpark. And worse, he’s also allowing more fly balls than usual. That’s a terrible combination. Hopefully, the Cubs can take advantage.

St. Louis Cardinals – Offense

Before getting injured last weekend, Dexter Fowler had really turned things up. Check out his stats since the All-Star break: .270/.393/.434 with 9 doubles, 4 triples, and a homer. I feel bad that he’s out with an injury, but I’m not upset over his absence from the lineup this afternoon. Get well soon, buddy, but not too soon.

Matt Carpenter has taken a big step back at the plate this season, working a still very respectable 121 wRC+ on the year (compared to the mid/upper 130s the last two seasons). With that said, he hasn’t had a multi-hit game since August 9, a stretch in which he’s hit an unusual .182/.374/.341, thanks to a 21.6% walk rate.

Paul DeJong has been really good here in the second half of the season, rocking 12 homers since July 22nd, while slashing .294/.347/.533 (130 wRC+).

The Cardinals aren’t the Cubs, but their offense has been among the ten best in baseball this season, so watch out. This could be a bumpy ride.


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Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami.