This afternoon, at 5:45 PM (or thereabouts), John Lackey will throw a pitch to a Chicago Cubs batter and the postseason will be underway. Odds are, if you look at it just purely from the numbers, this journey doesn’t end well. After all, 90% of all postseason teams lose their final game.
But if you are that 10%, it’s magical. Something that you’ll cherish for a long, long time. We mark these teams, we keep them in our hearts. We just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1985 team and they just made the World Series. Next year we’ll probably have a big focus on the 10th anniversary of that 2006 team that perhaps defined #CardinalDevilMagic for some. even before hashtags became a thing. There’s a line in the trailer for the mid-season CW superhero spinoff of Arrow and The Flash that resonates. The time-traveler Rip Hunter says, “In the future, none of you are heroes. You’re legends.” That’s what the members of a team that brings home the title are. Legends.
However, Joseph Campbell could tell you that you’ve got to take a journey to become a hero and the same holds true being a legend. The journey starts this afternoon against a team that, frankly, many of us would possibly never get over losing to, especially if they went on to be that 10%.
You can find many different places breaking down the series, lining the two teams up by position and seeing which is stronger. That’s more work than I want to do and, frankly, those folks would do it better anyway. (They should, since for most of them it’s their day job.) All I can tell you is what I’m thinking, whether it’s backed up by realism or not.
–We discussed this on Gateway to Baseball Heaven Sunday night, and while I can’t disagree with Bill Ivie when he says a split will do fine in the first two games, my gut feeling is still I want to see a sweep. Jake Arrieta goes in Game 3 and while the Cardinals actually have done OK against him this year at times, he’s still 2-1 with a 2.42 ERA against them and he’s pitching like Bob Gibson is giving him tips. I’d much rather have Arrieta going in an elimination game for the Cubs, desperate to stay alive, than a chance to put Chicago ahead in the series. The Game 4 matchup should favor the Cards, but even then, you get to a Game 5 winner-take-all, which is really something to be avoided if possible. The Cardinals can win both of the first two games. They don’t have to, but I really, really hope they do.
–If it comes down to a battle of the bullpens–and there’s every reason to think many games will–you have to believe that the Cardinals have the advantage. How many games were won against the Cubs late this season? We know of so many comebacks, like Jhonny Peralta‘s homer or Stephen Piscotty‘s double, but even in some of the losses, the Cardinals rallied to at least have a shot against the ‘pen. Which means the hitters really need to work on the starters. Make Joe Maddon have some tough decisions. Get the pitch count up. I think that works for the Cubs more than any other team still in the playoffs, even more than Los Angeles. (BTW, there’s a look at every Cardinal/Cub game this season over at Bleed Cubbie Blue, if you want to risk heading there.)
–Dan Buffa and I talked about this when we recorded Best Dans in Baseball last night (hopefully to be available soon) and we agreed that the hitter that worries us the most is Anthony Rizzo. Some of the younger Cub hitters, while still dangerous, you feel like you can get out if you make your pitches. Kris Bryant struck out almost 200 times this year, after all. If he gets into one, it could hit the Arch, but you can get him if you do it right. Rizzo, though, seems to have the Cardinals’ number at times and might become the successor to Aramis Ramirez. The Cardinals need to do their best to make sure he’s not coming up with the game hanging in the balance if at all possible.
–If folks are healthy, we could see more offense than we have come to expect out of this Cardinal team. It’s going to depend on Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk, of course, and if they can be at 75% or more of their ability, but if you can run out a lineup like this–
you have to feel pretty good about that potential, right? There’s a lot of pop there and a lot of generally good offensive history. Now, that’s not what we’ve seen much of the year due to injuries and Peralta’s been slumping in the second half, but they have a week’s worth of rest (basically) and another week to get better. I’m starting to think we’ll see some offense this series. I’m surely hoping so, at least.
All right, let’s look at today’s starters. John Lackey goes for the Cardinals and Jon Lester for the Cubs. They faced each other on July 6 in Wrigley, where Lackey got the better of the deal with a 6-0 win. That was actually the last time the Cubs saw Lackey, though the Cubs dealt with Lester twice in September, winning both of the games. (Lester got a loss and a no-decision.) For the year, Lackey is 2-0 with a 1.25 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP against the Cubs in three starts, while Lester is 1-3 in five starts against the Cards, though with a 2.59 ERA.
We know how good Lackey has been at home and in the daytime this season, so you have to like the chances of a low-scoring game. That seemed to be all the Cardinals played in 2015, so they should have an advantage in dealing with those, especially on the big stage. The young Cubs didn’t seem to have a problem in Pittsburgh with the crowd and the pressure, though, so expecting them to wilt in the spotlight seems naive.
Let’s look at the charts! Lackey first:
|Tommy La Stella||3||3||2||0||0||0||0||0||0||.667||.667||.667||1.333||0||0||0||0||0|
Obviously, this series is no cakewalk. It’s probably going to be a tough, agonizing, send-you-to-the-hospital week of games. You’ve got everyone in America, basically, cheering against you. Yet there’s still plenty of reason for optimism. Three more wins and the Cardinals are in yet another NLCS with a chance for the World Series. This is what they play for, right? Let’s hope they can get it done!
Oh, and by the way, the United Cardinal Bloggers are planning special episodes of UCB Radio at 10 PM each night there’s a game. Tonight, Mr. Buffa and Kevin Reynolds will break down Game 1 if you want to give it a listen!