St. Louis Cardinals Series Preview: Time for the Cubs to Fly the L

ST LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 28: Victor Caratini #7 of the Chicago Cubs beats the the throw to Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium on September 28, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 28: Victor Caratini #7 of the Chicago Cubs beats the the throw to Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium on September 28, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit

After nine days without baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals are finally back and expected to start a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on Friday.

Following the unfortunate series of events of the last few weeks in the MLB and the COVID-19 outbreak in the St. Louis Cardinals’ camp, the roster has been flipped on its head. The Redbirds are fired up and ready to take on the Chicago Cubs in the first installment this season of the best rivalry in sports!

Both the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies have already gone through a quarantine period and re-started playing again:

  • The Marlins have been a roaring success since returning, going unbeaten in four games and allowing just one run in the first three games.
  • The Phillies started back up against the hottest team in baseball right now in the New York Yankees. They split the series 2-2 and managed to break the Yankees winning streak of seven games and stopped them tying the franchise record of their best ten-game start to a season (9-1 would have equaled their franchise-record start in 2003 and 1988).

So there is certainly hope that, although the Cardinals haven’t been able to workout properly nor play regular games prior to this matchup, this shouldn’t hurt the series.

After the cancelation of the last two series and such a period of time between the last games, Mike Shildt made the decision to start Daniel Ponce De Leon on Friday. Ponce was the pick because he pitched most recently and is therefore the freshest of the Redbirds pitches. He will be taking on Jon Lester in the series opener. Adam Wainwright will then take the mound on Saturday versus Alec Mills and finally, we will see Jack Flaherty close the series in Busch Stadium against Kyle Hendricks on Sunday primetime.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 21: Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals speaks with Dakota Hudson #43 during a mound gathering during the first inning of a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on September 21, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 21: Yadier Molina #4 of the St. Louis Cardinals speaks with Dakota Hudson #43 during a mound gathering during the first inning of a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on September 21, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

The I-55 rivalry between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs has been ongoing since 1903 when the Chicago Orphans renamed to the Cubs. Over these last 117 years, the Cubbies currently hold the overall win record going 1,15-1,113 against the Cards. This is strongly driven by their dominance at the start of the 1900s. The Cardinals had winning seasons in seven of the last ten years, so the Redbirds certainly hold the throne at the minute!

The Cubs have started this season well, currently sitting at 10-3 (46-win pace in 60 games) after sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates and then winning series’ against the Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, and Kansas City Royals.

The offense has been hot, ranking 8th in the MLB with a 114 wRC+ driven by 65 runs scored and 19 homers. Though on the defensive side, they’ve allowed an above-average 58 runs and their relievers have combined for a 7.30 ERA (which is the third-worst in all MLB) and -0.6 fWAR which likewise is 28th out of 30 major league teams.

The Cubs’ starting pitching has been strong, so this could be a real pitching duel

Game one – 7:15 PM, Friday 8/7

Daniel Ponce De Leon will be taking the mound for his second start of 2020 on Friday. Ponce has made two appearances this year, starting off by getting the final out of game two of the Pirates series with a lineout to Tommy Edman. Secondly, he started against a very hot Twins team.

Although he gave up the three earned runs in the 3-0 loss, Ponce allowed only two hits and managed a strikeout in eight of the 11 outs he got. Ponce De Leon’s command of the zone has been standout, with his .131 expected batting average against ranking in the top 6% of all qualified pitchers in 2020, and his 44.4% strikeout percentage ranks as the 13th-best in all of MLB.

Ponce has only pitched against the Cubs on one occasion, which was in relief back in 2018 where he struck out Tommy La Stella and then forced a groundout to David Bote and Ben Zobrist. When looking at games against National League Central opponents he has pitched 34 innings, allowing a 3.71 ERA, 0.8 HR/9, and has averaged a strikeout per inning pitched.

Jon Lester will take on Ponce De Leon on Friday night. Lester has started 20 games in his career against the Cardinals with a 3.97 FIP, but if we limit that to starts made over the last two seasons then Lesters’ ERA against the Cards rockets up to 6.03 with 34 hits allowed in six games.

Lester, though, has performed well so far in 2020, going 11 innings across two games and allowing just one earned run and four hits. Taking into account that this was against the Reds and Pirates, it may not be quite such a blistering start. Plus, he is yet to face Paul Goldschmidt who has a career 1.197 OPS against him in 20 plate appearances!

St. Louis Cardinals
ST LOUIS, MO – JUNE 02: Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates the third out of the in the eighth inning at Busch Stadium on June 2, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

Game two – 7:15 PM, Saturday 8/8

Adam Wainwright takes the mound in game two versus Alec Mills. He started the year with a six-inning, five strikeout game where he didn’t allow a single barreled ball and got his first dub of the season. Wainwright allowed just three hits in this start, none of which came on his four-seamer which is his go-to pitch that he has thrown 37.3% of the time.

More from St Louis Cardinals News

Waino has a career 3.55 FIP against Chicago in his 41 starts, allowing 0.8 HR/9 and a .733 OPS against. He has been standout against a number of the key Cubs hitters, including limited to Anthony Rizzo to just four extra-base hits in 67 plate appearances and Javier Baez to a .377 OPS in 28 plate appearances.

His opponent, Alec Mills, has only faced the Cards on four occasions – twice in relief and twice as a starter. During his two starts in 2019, he was shutdown against the Redbirds allowing only one earned run which was a home run to Matt Carpenter. After the last week spent in the hotel, let’s hope the hitters have taken some time to research Mills’ stuff!

Game three – 6:08 PM, Sunday 8/9

Finally, we will see Jack Flaherty take the rubber in the series finale on Sunday. Jack managed to get the W in his Opening Day start against the Pirates throwing six strikeouts, not allowing a walk, and finishing with a 2.57 ERA. His 4.8% hard-hit percentage is the fourth-lowest of all qualified pitchers in the majors right now and his 1.27 FIP is the sixth-lowest of all MLB starters.

Historically, Flaherty has performed well against the Cubs. In his ten games to date, he has maintained a 2.70 ERA with a .156 opponent average against. Then if we cut that down further to only the games played against the Cubs at Busch Stadium, elite JFlare really comes to the forefront. He has pitched in five games at Busch, in which he has a 0.72 ERA, 10.8 K/9, and a .173 wOBA against which is unreal!

He goes up against Kyle Hendricks, who faced off against Flaherty twice in 2019 to differing outcomes. In the first matchup in May, Hendricks threw a complete game allowing only four hits to get the win, whereas in September Flaherty bossed the game for eight innings and Hendricks was taken out in the sixth having allowed four earned runs.

Hendricks has one of the slowest fastballs in the majors, averaging 87 mph which ranks in the bottom 2.5% of all pitchers, so if the Cards can wait on his fastball they could try and swing that in their favor.

Finally, let’s not forget that once we are past the starters in these games, the Cards have the joy of hitting against a flailing Cubbie bullpen. Their bullpen has averaged 2.43 HR/9, which is second-worst in the majors as well as an MLB-high 5.98 BB/9 and 6.77 FIP which is worst in the major leagues.

This includes Duane Underwood Jr. whose 9.00 ERA is the joint third-worst of any reliever with at least six innings pitched. Plus of course, Redbird favorite Craig Kimbrel, who has a career 14.46 FIP and three home runs against when pitching against the Cards, has again struggled in 2020. His 23.63 ERA this season is the second-worst of any reliever with more than two innings pitched! Now lets pause for a moment to enjoy this:

With only two days of real BP and seven days of hotel isolation before that, how will the offense compete?

Tyler O’Neill was raking prior to the COVID postponements. He currently sits second in the National League on barrels per plate appearance at 17.6%, eighth overall in MLB on average hit distance (242 ft), and in the top 7% of all major league hitters in expected slugging percentage (.664). He’ll have to step up and bat cleanup with Paul DeJong out.

Matt Carpenter has started slowly so far in 2020, with his .561 OPS putting him in the bottom third of MLB. Historically, he’s hit well against Chicago with a career .318 wOBA and a wRC+ of 184 and 139 in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Plus, Carp is always one for the moment which was shown up well by his game one, tenth inning, lead taking bomb in the Wrigley Field Massacre which went 431ft and was the second second-longest of his career.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 19: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a double in the 4th inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on September 19, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 19: Paul Goldschmidt #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a double in the 4th inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on September 19, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Paul Goldschmidt has always raked against the Cubs, never having had a wRC+below 100 and his overall career wRC+ of 176 is a great sign he will make an impact in this series! Plus there is no forgetting his game four winning line drive down the third-base line to bring in Tommy Edman and secure the sweep last September!

David Bote currently leads the majors in barrels per batted ball event, barreling the ball in 30.8% of his batted balls. The closest Cardinal to him is Tyler O’Neill who has done it 21.4% of the time. Bote though has always struggled against the Cards, with a career 51 wRC+ and only nine hits in 55 plate appearances.

Wilson Contreras is another Cubs hitter who is streaking right now! His 69.6% hard-hit percentage leads MLB among qualified hitters, and his average home run distance of 436 ft is the fourth-longest in the NL. Although he’s struggled against the Cards in recent years (hitting just a .188 average in 2019), he has hit Waino well historically with two of his three hits being homers.

Next. Cardinals turn to Kwang Hyun Kim for rotation help. dark

We’ve seen that although the Cubs starters are performing well, they currently have the third-worst bullpen in the majors. So if the Redbirds can force up the pitch count early and get onto the Cubbies’ relievers, that could be an effective way of winning this series and getting the season back on track! #THATSASWEEP!?