St. Louis Cardinals Series Preview: 5 games in 3 days against the Cubs
By Matt Benson
After a successful first series back in the big time, the St. Louis Cardinals are headed North up Lake Michigan to take on the Chicago Cubs in five games at Wrigley Field.
The St. Louis Cardinals won the series against the Southsiders, winning both games of the opening doubleheader on Saturday. Unfortunately, they lost the series finale on Sunday after Roel Ramirez gave up four consecutive homers in his MLB debut.
A vintage outing from Adam Wainwright in game one was helped out by a strong first inning from the offense. The Redbirds scored four runs and every player had an at-bat. The scoring outbreak was all kicked off by a strong Kolten Wong eight-pitch walk! The bullpen took over in game two, allowing just three runs and pair of homers from Paul Goldschmidt and Tyler O’Neill settled the game in the Cardinals favor. Finally aside from Ramirez’s struggles in game three, the Redbirds gave up only two hits and had nine strikeouts in an otherwise strong pitching performance.
After the previous series versus the Cubs at Busch Stadium was canceled, we will see five games squeezed into three days. Two of these games (one on Monday and Wednesday as part of the doubleheaders) are going to technically be Cardinal home games at Wrigley Field. This means rosters will be stretched to their limit and bullpens will be utilized throughout, but expect to see the likes of Jack Flaherty, Daniel Ponce De Leon, KK, and a number of others taking the mound!
The I-55 rivalry between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs has been blazing hot for nearly 120 years now. It started in 1903 when the Chicago Orphans were renamed to the Cubs. Over this time, the Cubbies own the series going 1,151-1,113 against the Cards. Though their dominance at the start of the 1900s heavily swings this in their favor, the Redbirds have winning seasons in seven of the last ten years. Therefore the crown is certainly held in St. Louis at the minute!
The Cubs have started this season well, currently sitting at 13-6 which equates to 41-win pace in this 60 game season, or 111-win pace in a 162 game season. However, they struggled in their most recent series against the Brewers, losing three of four games.
The Cubbie offense has been hot prior to the finale with the Brewers. They rank seventh in the MLB with a 111 wRC+ and fifth overall with their .332 wOBA. The defensive side of the ball hasn’t been quite so positive. Although the starting pitching has been strong (a 2.92 ERA), their relievers have combined for a 5.61 FIP which is fifth-worst in the majors and negative fWAR.
Expect to see two bullpen games in this five-game series, potentially swinging things in the Cardinals’ favor!
Games one & two – starting 4:15 PM, Monday 8/17
In the first game of this doubleheader, Kwang-Hyun Kim is slated to make his first start in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. KK was signed in the offseason from the KBO and is technically a rookie. Throughout his long career in Korea, he was used almost exclusively as a starter. In 2019, he made 30 starts with 180 strikeouts, a 1.8 BB/9, and a 2.51 ERA in 190 1/3 innings pitched.
Expect a fastball that can touch 95 mph and a nasty 80 mph splitter from KK. He comes with a track record from Korea that will be great to see, and although he struggled in his first appearance as a closer, we’ll be expecting some vintage KBO starter KK on Tuesday!
KK is likely going to face up against Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks has performed strongly so far in 2020, amassing 1.0 fWAR already from his four starts, allowing just one homer and two walks. Hendricks has one of the slowest fastballs in the majors, averaging 87 mph which ranks in the bottom 2.5% of all pitchers. If the Cards can wait on his fastball they could try and swing that in their favor – I mean you Bro’Neill!
Game two then will see the first battle of the bullpens of the rivalry in 2020. Based on current numbers, the St. Louis Cardinals relievers have 0.7 fWAR more than the Cubs through 11 fewer games. The Cards lead the major with a 3.53 xFIP, with their 2.32 ERA sitting second behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers. If the Cardinals bullpen can maintain their exceptional K/BB rate of 4.80, this should really leave them in good hands for this matchup. The Cubs 1.71 K/BB just shows how much their relievers have struggled with control and getting their outs in 2020!
Game three – 7:15 PM, Tuesday 8/18
Daniel Ponce De Leon takes the bump for his second start of 2020 in game three on Tuesday. Although he gave up the three earned runs in his last start to Minnesota, 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 was excellent, with his .134 expected batting average against ranking in the top 10 of all qualified pitchers in 2020. His 44.4% strikeout percentage ranks as the sixth-best in the National League.
Ponce has only pitched against the Cubs on one occasion, which was in relief back in 2018. He struck out Tommy La Stella and then forced a groundout to David Bote and Ben Zobrist. In games versus NL Central opponents, he has pitched 34 innings and allowed 0.8 HR/9, a 3.71 ERA and has averaged a strikeout per inning pitched.
Ponce will, in all likelihood, match up against Yu Darvish in game three of this five-game series. Darvish has had an interesting time with the Cubs so far, initially struggling with his near five ERA in his first season in 2018. Times have changed though and he currently leads the Cubbie starters with a 1.88 ERA. Darvish faced the St. Louis Cardinals four times in 2019, allowing three home runs and six stolen bases. This could be a great opportunity for the spring speed of O’Neill, Bader & Edman.
Games four & five – starting 1:20 PM, Wednesday 8/19
We will finally see Jack Flaherty re-take the rubber in game four on Wednesday. Flaherty managed to get the W in his Opening Day start against the Pirates throwing six strikeouts, not allowing a walk, and finishing with a 1.27 FIP. His 4.8% hard-hit percentage is the fourth-lowest of all qualified pitchers in the majors right now and his 80.1 mph exit velocity allowed is lowest in the National League and second-lowest in MLB.
Flaherty has historically performed well against the Cubs. In his ten games to date, he has maintained a 2.70 ERA with a .156 opponent average against. In these games against the Cubbies, he has allowed only five earned runs in 25.2 innings pitched when facing righties, and the current expected Cubs lineup will contain at least five righties.
He will likely be taking on Alec Mills who struggled in his last outing, allowing four earned runs, including a three-run bomb to Christian Yelich. Mills has only faced the Cards on four occasions – twice in relief and twice as a starter. Though during those two starts in 2019, he was stellar against the Redbirds allowing only one earned run.
Finally, we will close out the series with another bullpen game. This is a further opportunity for the Redbird relievers to show off their excellent stuff. There are currently nine bullpen arms who haven’t allowed a single earned run. Austin Gomber has 3.1 innings pitched without a single hit allowed, Tyler Webb has pitched in four games without a run, and Alex Reyes pitched his first game in 498 days and struck out the side.
I would certainly take another watch of Seth Elledge, too. After Ramirez’s struggles in the fifth, Elledge came in and struck out Edwin Encarnacion on three pitches. He then proceeded to get another six outs without allowing a hit, nor walk, and got a further four strikeouts.
Can the Cardinals keep up the strong offense from their first Chicago series?
Dylan Carlson could make a major impact in his first series against the Cubs after a good start to his major league career. Carlson started slow in game one going hitless in three plate appearances, but did make an exceptional sliding catch in the fourth inning from a 106-mph exit velo Edwin Encarnación rope.
Carlson then moved across the diamond to right field in game two. After striking out in his first at-bat, Carlson worked a seven-pitch walk in the fourth and got his first major league hit with a double to deep right field in the fifth inning. He added another hit in game three, but we still await his first RBI – could this be the series he gets that elusive first RBI or homer in the majors?
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Andrew Knizner will be back behind the plate in a number of these games and showed up well in his first game of 2020. He had two hits in his three plate appearances in the first game of the doubleheader against the ChiSox, including an RBI single and a double to center field.
Anthony Rizzo currently leads the Cubs with his 0.9 fWAR from 18 games. He has a team-high five homers, but his 26.5% hard-hit percentage ranks fairly low in the MLB (in the bottom 13% of all qualified MLB hitters). Historically he has performed well against the Cardinals with a 171 wRC+ at Wrigley, so it’ll be interesting to see how he performs against some of the Cardinals pitchers he hasn’t faced before (Ponce / KK / Fernández).
Jason Kipnis surprisingly tops the Cubs offensively, with his 217 wRC+ and six RBI from ten games. Kipnis has only faced the Cards nine times, but had a career 1.184 OPS including an RBI single from Jack Flaherty.
A lot of baseball coming up for the St. Louis Cardinals which is only good news from my perspective. The only way that could be made better would be to keep up this good return to baseball and get some W’s against the Cubs! Lets Fly That L!