St. Louis Cardinals Rivals: A check in on the Baby Bears
By Matt Graves
In an odd start to the 2019 schedule, the St. Louis Cardinals have yet to play the Chicago Cubs. How have the Cubs started the year?
The St. Louis Cardinals have just about had enough of playing the Milwaukee Brewers. While the most recent series has gone fantastic so far for the Cardinals, the two teams are finishing up the last of their 10 games in the first month of the season on Wednesday.
The schedule so far this season has been very odd as there have been two off-days on Fridays, the 10 games against the Brewers and a split-day series with the Pirates. Is it too much to ask for a normal schedule again? The one thing that has been missing most so far this year has been playing our best friends, the Cubs.
Last year, the Cubs more or less collapsed at the end of the season and didn’t make the postseason after losing to the Brewers in a play-in game to the Wildcard Game. Over the offseason, they didn’t make any major additions (biggest add was Daniel Descalsco), which is surprising given how many Cubs fans would’ve bet their firstborn son that Bryce Harper was coming to the Northside.
We won’t have to wait long to see the Cubs as the Cardinals head to Chicago on May 3rd, but since we haven’t seen them yet, how has the 2019 season begun for our friends up North?
Well at the very beginning of the year, the going was rough for the Cubs. After the first 10 games, the Cubs were just 3-7 which included an ugly sweep in Atlanta. Since those first ten games, things have improved as we all expected and they currently sit at 11-10 and 2.0 games back from your St. Louis Cardinals.
Best hitter: Javier Baez
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone really as Baez is arguably their best player, but the infielder is currently batting .315 with seven homers and has been pretty much all the Cubs have wanted so far. The strange thing on the offensive side is that beyond Baez, the best producers have been surprises to some extent.
Jason Heyward, Willson Contreras and Daniel Descalsco all have an OPS above .840 and while the Cubs expect production from them, they were not supposed to be the leaders on the team.
Biggest offensive disappointment: Kyle Schwarber
Schwarber and Kris Bryant would be more or less tied in this instance as both have started the year ice cold with the bat. Schwarber, who has been playing left field, has an OPS of just .612 and three homers. Bryant has just a .691 OPS to go along with one homer. These guys will not be this bad for the whole season, it’s just worth noting that they have been ice cold at the beginning of the season.
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While there have been some surprises and disappointments for the Cubs on the offensive side, they still rank 10th in the league in wRC+ which is ok for where we are in the season. The Cardinals rank 5th for reference.
On the pitching side, the Cubs have really been better than the Cardinals in both starters and relievers. In the second series of the season, the Cubs bullpen blew a couple of games and looked pretty bad. The Cardinals bullpen hasn’t been exposed quite like that yet and the deeper statistics say that we have gotten lucky as a pitching staff to an extent.
Best Pitcher: Cole Hamels
The 35-year-old crafty lefty has been a great addition to the Cubs rotation that had a bunch of issues last year. So far in 2019, Hamels has repaid the Cubs for picking up his option over the offseason by having just a 2.77 ERA over 26 innings. Sustainability is obviously the question here as the lefty has a lot of miles on his arm. For a Cardinals team that doesn’t hit slow pitching lefties well, I hope we don’t have to face him.
Biggest pitching disappointment: Yu Darvish
Yu Darvish has been undeniably bad this year. Averaging just over four innings a start over his first five starts with a 5.96 ERA, Darvish has been a huge disappointment.
Last year, he disappointed by not performing over even the 40 innings he did pitch before injuring himself. For a guy who signed a six year/$126M deal through 2024, an injury plagued 2018 and a rough start to 2019 is not making that deal look great. At the age of 32, the Cubs may be stuck with another albatross contract.
The Cubs have not gotten off to the start I’m sure they would’ve wanted, but due to a “good enough” pitching staff and a solid offense, they have hung around with the NL Central as everyone expected them to do.
Even sitting at just one game above .500, make no mistake, the Cubs, Brewers and our Cardinals are going to be in a dogfight for this division. The most important thing now is that the Cardinals take advantage as much as they can while the Cubs are middling before they get hot as they undoubtedly will.