I’m writing this Series Preview outside today from beautiful Scottsdale, Arizona. And, according to Google Maps, I’m just a 20 min ride to Sloan Park – not sure I’ll be able to get out there for extended Spring Training action, though.
The Cubs and the Cardinals, as you know, are kicking of a three-game weekend set at Busch Stadium this weekend, and if you ask me, it’s perfect timing. The Cubs’ woes may have dropped them down to .500 (and fourth place in the NL Central), but I have a feeling that an off-day followed by three games against the team’s biggest rival in their home ball park is exactly what they need to get going. I can’t wait.
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (17-17) just dropped two out of three against the Rockies and three straight against the Yankees. They’re .500 and in fourth place of the NL Central. These are unfamiliar times (in the last couple years, anyway), but if we can’t be fans when they’re struggling, are we really fans? #DeepTake
And how about the now first place St. Louis Cardinals (19-14)? They started the season out 3-9, but have rallied back in the past few weeks, going 16-5 to regain the lost ground. They are just 2.5 games ahead of the Cubs, but it was a well-fought for 2.5 games. Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back, eh?
Location: Busch Stadium
Game Times and Broadcasts
- Friday, May 12 at 7:15 CT on CSN-C, MLBN 670 The Score
- Saturday, May 13 at 3:05 CT on ABC-7, FS1 670 The Score
- Sunday, May 14 at 1:15 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.
- Eddie Butler (1.17 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 5.11 xFIP; 2.13 K/BB)*
- Jon Lester (3.27 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 3.77 xFIP; 2.50 K/BB)
- Jake Arrieta (5.35, 3.77 FIP, 3.56 xFIP; 3.67 K/BB)
* 2017 Triple-A Iowa stats
- Kyle Schwarber, LF
- Kris Bryant, 3B*
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B
- Ben Zobrist, RF
- Addison Russell, SS**
- Willson Contreras, C
- Javy Baez, 2B
- Albert Almora, CF
* Jeimer Candelario may also work in at third base, which could push Kris Bryant to right field, and Ben Zobrist/Javy Baez to second base or the bench.
** Addison Russell has also been dealing with a sore right shoulder; he may play this weekend, or he may not. With an off-day on Monday, Maddon could use this time to give him some extra rest without requiring a DL-stint.
St. Louis Cardinals
- Mike Leake (1.79 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 3.52 xFIP; 3.86 K/BB)
- Michael Wacha (3.19 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 3.57 xFIP; 3.78 K/BB)
- Adam Wainwright (6.37 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 3.80 xFIP; 2.54 K/BB)
- Kolton Wong, 2B
- Randal Grichuk, RF
- Matt Carpenter, 1B
- Jedd Gyorko, 3B
- Yadier Molina, C
- Aledmys Diaz, SS
- Tommy Pham, LF
- Magneuris Sierra, CF
Hot or Not and Whom to Watch
Chicago Cubs – Pitching
The big story for the Cubs’ pitching staff this weekend is the debut of Eddie Butler. The Cubs are hoping Butler, a former top pitching prospect, can (or rather, already has) tweaked just enough at Triple-A Iowa to realize his full potential.
His 159.1 Major League innings have not been great (6.50 ERA, 5.69 FIP), but he’s in a new organization with a new pitching coach, new infrastructure and, perhaps most importantly, a fresh start. When you’re watching him tonight, don’t be surprised if you don’t see a ton of strikeouts – that’s not really his game – but instead hope that he limits the walks, induces some weak contact, and continues to get a fair amount of ground balls (something at which he has already found success in the Majors).
Final thought: Don’t let your excitement or panic swing too much with this one start. Yes, if Butler does well with the Cubs he can be a fixture in their rotation for many years (a huge need), but that won’t be decided tonight either way. Patience.
Chicago Cubs – Offense
There are plenty of negatives to discuss, but I won’t because there are plenty of positives too. Like, Kris freakin’ Bryant.
The Cubs third baseman and reigning NL MVP has been on an absolute tear lately. In fact, his season slash line is now almost exactly equal (or better, depending on the stat) to his dominant 2016:
By wRC+ Bryant is one tick worse than last season (149 v. 148), but by wOBA he’s actually doing better (.396 v. .403). Since his 1-19 start to the season, Bryant has been all world: .331/.427/.612 (170 wRC+; .436 wOBA). If you’re wondering what it would look like if he took his game to the next level (again!), this is it.
St. Louis Cardinals – Pitching
On Sunday, the Cubs have a nice matchup between Jake Arrieta and Adam Wainwright. Both are formerly dominant pitchers (who can carry a stick, as well) having down starts to their 2017 season (that said, I’d bet on Arrieta having the better 2017 when all is said and done).
Wainwright’s results have been really ugly, though his peripherals have actually been WAY better (3.81 FIP, 3.80 xFIP). When you check under the hood, you’ll see that while his walk rate is the highest of his career, it’s still only 7.8% (which is not bad at all), especially when his strikeout rate is actually better than it’s been since 2014.
HOWEVER, walks and strikeouts aren’t everything (as we’re learning). Wainwright’s 34.2% hard-hit rate in 2017 is nearly 8% points higher than his career norms and his soft-hit rate is down as well. He’s allowing far more line drives and getting far fewer grounders. Sometimes things are as simple as: guys are hitting him and hitting him hard.
Keep it up, Cubs.
St. Louis Cardinals – Offense
Matt Carpenter has picked up right where he left off after a huge 2016 season at the plate. This year, so far, he’s batting .267/.424/.535 with seven home runs. Most impressively, he’s walking a Harperian 21.2% of the time.
And while Cubs’ starters have only walked batters 8.4% of the time (which isn’t actually that bad – 14th best in baseball), the bullpen has had quite a bit more trouble (10.4% – 22nd best in baseball). So if you’re looking for something to root against, hope that the Cubs pen doesn’t match up with Carpenter in a big spot late when the Cardinals need a baserunner.
Michael’s One-Time Only, Super-Special And All Knowing Advice Column:
Hey, guys, it’s me, Michael.
I know only some of you (sure) are freaking out right now, while the others are preaching patience and optimism. But I think I’ve landed on something else, entirely: Baseball isn’t binary. You don’t have to be 100% confident that your team is the very best in the league, or 100% worried that things are definitely going wrong. You can just enjoy – or at least ride – the peaks and valleys for what they are.
So here’s my advice: Get angry when things are going poorly, and go nuts when things are going the Cubs’ way. You don’t have to pretend you don’t have emotions and that they aren’t swung wildly from game-to-game (or pitch-to-pitch, for some of us). But remember one thing you must always do: Root for the Cubs. They need it. You need it. It’s fun. And it’s sort of what we do, right? We’re fans.