Series Preview: Cubs at Cardinals, April 2 - April 5, 2017

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Series Preview: Cubs at Cardinals, April 2 – April 5, 2017

Chicago Cubs

They’re here.

It’s been exactly 160 days since the last time I wrote up a Series Preview, and, as I’m sure you remember, that one was pretty special.

In fact, it even began with the same two words you see at the top of this post.

What followed, however, was an ode to the fans that had long wondered if they’d ever live to see that very day – and I don’t say that lightly.

I think I can speak for most of us when I say that there were days, months, and sometimes even years when we genuinely wondered if we’d ever live to see the day the Chicago Cubs – our Chicago Cubs – would reach the World Series. So when that day finally came, those two words meant more than they ever had before. It was a dream come true. It was finally happening.

Today, I’d like to share those words with you again, but in an entirely different light. They’re here. The Chicago Cubs – the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs – are returning to the regular season with a title to defend. A title they haven’t had to defend since 1909. A title they’re going to fight and bleed and laugh and cry to secure. A title they are going to win.

Next season is here. Are you ready?

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (0-0) are coming off a 103-58, first place, World Series season in 2016. They were the best team in baseball last year, and proved it by winning the final game.

The St. Louis Cardinals (0-0), on the other hand, missed the postseason by a game, finishing second in the NL Central. However, they have some new talent this year and, now, something to prove.

Game Times and Broadcasts

Location: Busch Stadium

  • Sunday, April 2 at 7:35 CT on ESPN, 670 The Score
  • Tuesday, April 4 at 7:15 CT on CSN-C+, MLBN, 670 The Score
  • Wednesday, April 5 at 12:45 CT on WGN, MLBN, 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 Lineup or Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.

Chicago Cubs

Starters (2016 Stats):

  • Jon Lester (2.44 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 3.47 xFIP; 3.79 K/BB)
  • Jake Arrieta (3.10 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 3.68 xFIP; 2.50 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (3.35 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 3.80 xFIP; 3.40 K/BB)

Approximate Lineup:

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

St. Louis Cardinals

Starters (2016 Stats):

  • Carlos Martinez (3.04 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 3.81 xFIP; 2.49 K/BB)
  • Adam Wainwright (4.62 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 4.06 xFIP; 2.73 K/BB)
  • Lance Lynn (n/a, Tommy John surgery)

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Aledmys Diaz, SS
  3. Matt Carpenter, 1B
  4. Stephen Piscotty, RF
  5. Randal Grichuk, LF
  6. Yadier Molina, C
  7. Jhonny Peralta, 3B
  8. Kolten Wong, 2B
  9. Carlos Martinez, P

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

The Chicago Cubs are kicking the season off with their trio of hard-nosed, tough-guy veterans in Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey.

Lester begins his third season as a Chicago Cub, after finishing another brilliant season from the mound. He’s now collected five straight seasons with at least 200 innings pitched, which also includes eight of his past nine. When he signed with the Cubs in the winter of 2014, we were told by the front office that he’d age gracefully, and, so far, he has. Let’s see if he has another Cy Young caliber season in the tank.

Jake Arrieta will follow Lester on Tuesday after the off-day Monday, and is pitching for his next contract – one that he is probably hoping approaches $200 million. It’s entirely possible that this’ll be his last year with the Cubs, so cherish it.

And finally, John Lackey takes the ball in game three, instead of the Cubs’ other 2016 Cy Young finalist, Kyle Hendricks, but for good reason. Lackey has historically been dominant at Busch Stadium, and Joe Maddon is definitely looking to tap into that this Wednesday afternoon:

Chicago Cubs – Offense

Last season, the Chicago Cubs were the third highest scoring team in baseball. Since then, they’ve subtracted two potent bats in Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler, but have added Kyle Schwarber back into the mix, and are counting on a strong platoon in center field with plenty of upside. Offensively, the Cubs may actually be improved this year.

Outside of that, however, there are plenty of reasons to be encouraged. Addison Russell, for one notable example, appears ready to break out at the plate in a huge way. The power in his bat began to finally rear it’s beautiful head near the end of last season and into October/November … and then again this Spring. With any luck, the Cubs may yet get 25+ home runs from their gold glove caliber shortstop. Wouldn’t that be something?

And beyond that, the Cubs have a lineup full of All-Stars (Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant), budding talents (Willson Contreras, Javy Baez), and one guy with as much variance at the plate as you can imagine (Jason Heyward). There’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll have a strong offense this season. The only question is will it be the best?

St. Louis – Pitching

For the first time in five years, Adam Wainwright will not be taking the ball for the Cardinals on Opening Night. Instead, that honor goes to – for the first time in his career – Carlos Martinez. And after two straight productive seasons and an exceedingly bright future, he’s earned it.

But with that said, Martinez’s results last season were more than a half-run better than his underlying performance (to be fair, his underlying performance wasn’t that bad, but 2016 was a notable step down from his 2015 campaign). Moreover, the Cubs have had his number for his entire career: across nine starts (61.2 innings pitcher) from 2013-2016, the Cubs have tagged Martinez for 32 runs (4.67 ERA) and a collective 112 tOPS+ (that means that Martinez was 12 percent worse against the Cubs than he usually was against everyone else (cool stat, right?)).

Hopefully, that trend continues.

St. Louis – Offense

Well here it is, the part I was dreading.

Over the offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals went out and got themselves a new leadoff hitter and center fielder … and he’s a good one. In fact, at age 30, he had a career year at the plate in 2016, slashing .276/.393/.447 with 13 home runs and a fantastic 14.3% walk rate. His 129 wRC+ was among the top 30 in baseball and fourth among center fielders (a group that happens to include Mike Trout).

And his name, of course, is World Series Champion Dexter Fowler (I think that’s how he’d prefer to be listed, right?).

Beyond Fowler, there’s one other guy I’d like to point out, and that’s Yadier Molina. Molina has played in parts of thirteen seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, six of which have been above average. However, those seasons were sufficiently above average that his career wRC+ is an even 100 (with his glove and intangibles behind the dish, that’s a very valuable player).

Last season at the plate (113 wRC+) was Molina’s best in the past three years, and he doesn’t feel like stopping anytime soon. In fact, the Cardinals just rewarded his career with a nice juicy extension. How he plays this season may not be precisely indicative of his future, but at almost 35 years old, it could provide a nice window into how valuable or harmful that contract will be.

Alright, that’s it. It’s time for the regular season, because you World Series Champion Chicago Cubs are here, and they’re ready to go.

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Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami