The Cubs magic number to clinch the central is 5. The Cardinals host the Cubs for 3 starting tonight. The last thing most Cardinals fans want is for the Cubs to sweep and clinch the division on the rivals’ home field. For the Cardinals players this is also not the best-case scenario. After a weekend series split against a sub-.500 Brewers squad, St. Louis finds itself in the rear of a 3-team Wild Card race with the Giants and Mets (interesting to note, also that St. Louis is the smallest market of any NL playoff contending team). To see how this series may play out, let’s start with this, a comparison of the teams’ MLB ranks prior to Sunday’s games followed by head-to-head statistics:
If the Cardinals want to avoid the sweep it will have to score runs. 54 in 13 games is 3.15/ game, well below league average. And they will need to do it against 3 very tough starting pitchers and a bullpen that has been lights-out for a solid month.
Monday’s series opener has Mike Leake (9-9, 4.61) on the hill against Kyle Hendricks (14-7, 2.07). Hendricks has been absolutely dynamite for the Cubs. His ERA has been below 3.00 since May 22. In his last start against the Cards. he pitched 7 strong innings, allowed 2 runs (both on solo home runs), struck out 12 and walked none, his changeup has become his primary out pitch this season, and he is enjoying a lot of success as a result.
Tuesday’s game will see Jason Hammel (14-8 3.50) go against Jaime Garcia who has really struggled lately. Back on June 21, the Cardinals were able to defeat Hammel and the Cubs 4-3 as Hammel went 5 2/3 innings and surrendered all 4 Cardinals runs. In Hammel’s last start on September 6, the Brewers were able to pound Hammel for 9 runs (8 earned) en route to a 12-5 win.
Wednesday’s finale pits Jon Lester (16-4, 2.51) against Carlos Martinez. Lester hasn’t allowed more than 2 runs in each of his last 8 starts, one of which was back on August 11. The Cubs were able to come away with a 4-3 victory as Lester settled for a no-decision.
Even if the Cardinals manage to knock out any of the Cubs starters in this series they face a bullpen that has been extremely stingy over the past month. Justin Grimm owns a 16:11 K:IP ratio, Rob Zastryzny is at 13:11, Trevor Cahill was a thorn in the Cardinals’ side during last year’s NLDS, and Carl Edwards has yet to allow a run in September. All of this spells trouble if the Cardinals want to keep pace with the Giants and Mets for the NL Wild Card.
As for players to watch, well what can be said about the Cubs lineup that hasn’t been said? Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell are all having great seasons and if the supporting cast produces as well, this series will not go well for the Cardinals. Let’s just hope that the return of Aledmys Diaz can help the Cardinals score more runs and get a couple wins this series.