Series Preview: Cubs at Cardinals, May 23-25, 2016
The Cubs have been getting bad results lately. It’s okay to say it. Be it poor performance, bad luck, bad bounces, the natural ebb and flow of the season, or literally anything else, the wins just haven’t been there.
But I’ve accepted the losses. Or, rather, embraced them. Would you like to know why?
Because now the Cubs head to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals. And, at this point in the season, there is literally only one thing that could quickly pull us out of a funk, and that’s a series win at Busch Stadium. Now, the fans will get that chance.
A series win in St. Louis right now would immediately rekindle the spark of the early season and could be a nice stepping stone into the ten-game home stand that follows the series. I’m not saying it’s always darkest before the dawn or you need the bad times to enjoy the good. I’m just saying may the Cubs kick some Cardinal ass in their home ballpark and move on.
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (29-13), just dropped their second straight series, and are just 5-8 since their big four game series sweep of the Washington Nationals back on May 5-8. Even still, they have the best record in baseball and a six game lead in the NL Central.
The St. Louis Cardinals (23-21) are .500 over their last ten games, and coming off a series loss to the Diamondbacks. The Cardinals are seven games behind the Cubs (eight in the loss column), so they’ve got a battle ahead if they want to get back up to the top of the Central.
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Monday, May 23 at 7:15 CT on CSN+, 670 The Score
- Tuesday, May 24 at 6:10 CT on CSN, ESPN, 670 The Score
- Wednesday, May 25 at 12:45 CT on ABC-7, 670 The Score
Expected Starters and Lineups
These lineups are likely to be pretty close to what actually gets fielded, but you’ll want to check each day’s Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.
- John Lackey (3.31 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 3.38 xFIP; 4.33 K/BB)
- Jason Hammel (2.31 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 3.89 xFIP; 2.39 K/BB)
- Jake Arrieta (1.29 ERA, 2.48 FIP; 3.02 xFIP; 3.15 K/BB)
- Dexter Fowler, CF
- Kris Bryant, 3B
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Ben Zobrist, RF
- Jorge Soler, LF
- Javy Baez, 2B
- Addison Russell, SS
- Miguel Montero, C
St. Louis Cardinals
- Adam Wainwright (5.92 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 4.53 xFIP; 2.21 K/BB)
- Michael Wacha (4.03 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 3.81 xFIP; 2.44 K/BB)
- Carlos Martinez (3.56 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 4.30 xFIP; 2.06 K/BB)
- Matt Carpenter, 3B
- Aledmys Diaz, SS
- Stephen Piscotty, RF
- Matt Adams, 1B
- Yadier Molina, C
- Brandon Moss,LF
- Randal Grichuk, CF
- Kolton Wong 2B
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
In this series the Cardinals will catch the two pitchers they’d probably hope to see the least, in Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. Of course, they won’t want to see Arrieta, because, well, nobody does; he’s been downright brilliant in his last two starts (15 IP, 3ER, 4BB, 19Ks).
But then there’s also John Lackey, who not only dominated the Cardinals in his last visit to Busch Stadium (7.0 IP, 0ER, 3BB, 11Ks), but has been turning it way up since the beginning of May. Since May 1, Lackey has given up just six earned runs in 29 IP (1.86 ERA). He’s collected 25 strikeouts over that stretch and has allowed just six walks in the process. He’s getting a little bit lucky with the balls in play and his sequencing, but I believe he’s legitimately looked much better than we saw early in the season, for a nice long stretch now.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
Anthony Rizzo has had a pretty cold stretch of baseball, but we suspect there’s a bit more going on there than meets the eye. So we’re gonna side-step the Cubs big first baseman for now, and address his issues at the plate later today. Stay tuned.
Javy Baez has started in four of the past six games, but has gotten into each of them, one way or another. Unfortunately, during that stretch of games, he’s gotten a bit cold (1-15), even though he hasn’t struck out too often (3). The bright spot for Baez in 2016 remains the distinct lack of strikeouts (21.4% for the season), but it would be nice to see him tap into that offensive potential now that they are under control. Baby steps, I suppose.
Kris Bryant (.446 wOBA), Ben Zobrist (.433 wOBA) and Dexter Fowler (.372 wOBA) have continued to carry the Cubs offense since the off-day last Monday, but there’s another player I am thrilled to discuss: Jorge Soler.
It’s a small sample and it’s arbitrary, but over his last seven games (24 plate appearances), Soler has slashed .286/.375/.524 with a 12.5% walk rate. His BABIP (.333), while high on its own, is actually exactly equal to his career mark and represents a dramatic, positive regression compared to his 2016 season BABIP before this stretch (.211). And it’s perfectly explainable. During this stretch, Soler is hitting the ball hard, coming into today with just a 6.3% soft hit rate and a 43.8% line drive rate. That’s the type of batted ball profile that makes for a productive stretch of baseball. Even though Jason Heyward is expected back in a few days, a Jorge Soler that is heating up alongside the weather in Chicago can quickly become a dangerous weapon.
St. Louis Cardinals – Pitching
The Cubs are getting three interesting pitchers this week, in Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez. Each have had very successful careers to date (obviously to a varying extent), but each has gone through a rough patch at the beginning of the 2016 season.
Adam Wainwright, for example, has a 5.92 ERA (4.00 FIP), thanks to a minuscule strikeout rate (13.5%) for the season. That said, his last time out against the Rockies was his best start of the year (6.2 IP, 0ER, 1BB, 5Ks) and prompted him to make some comments about how “dangerous” he is.
Michael Wacha has finished each of his first three short seasons with an ERA below 3.40, and has already accumulated 6.3 fWAR in his young pitching career (404.1 IP). However, he’s got a 4.03 ERA to start the season with an xFIP (3.81) that supports it. Like Wainwright, Wacha’s strikeout rate in 2016 (19.6%) is a bit low overall, even if it’s fairly close to his career rate (21.0%).
Carlos Martinez is fresh off a 3.01 ERA (3.4 fWAR) season in 2015, as well, but has also gotten off to a slow start in 2016. In his eight starts so far (48 IP), Martinez has a middling 3.56 ERA, but peripherals that are far less encouraging (4.22 FIP, 4.30 xFIP). Again, like the two pitchers before him, he’s striking out very few batters this season (17.9%) and is likely to run into some trouble as soon as the BABIP (.243 in 2016) begins to normalize (.314 career BABIP).
St. Louis Cardinals – Offense
The St. Louis Cardinals have been a surprisingly solid offensive unit so far in 2016. Here are their numbers and rankings on a variety of statistics.
- Average: .270 (T-5th)
- OBP: .344 (4th)
- SLG: .464 (2nd)
- ISO: .194 (2nd)
- HR: 59 (4th)
More specifically, they’ve been slugging a heck of a lot. Already, they have eight position players with five or more home runs, and four guys that are slugging over .500. Stephen Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz have been their top offensive contributors, but it’s Piscotty who’s been particularly impressive lately.
Since the beginning of May, Piscotty has slashed .380/.449/.519 (.423 wOBA), with just a 9.0% strikeout rate. His BABIP (.414) has been unusually high but he had a very large BABIP in 2015 (.372), as well. That said, his career Minor League BABIP (.314) is a heck of a lot lower than his MLB numbers, so I would definitely expect some regression.
Plan of Attack v. Cardinals
- Do not strike yourself out, be patient. Each of the Cardinals three starting pitchers this series have had exceedingly low strikeout rates in 2016. Patience will be key, because the Cardinal pitchers will get themselves into trouble.
- Keep the ball on the ground. Cardinals hitters have grown accustomed to the long ball. Take that away from them and they might struggle to score runs.
- Just win two of the freakin’ games.