Apr 28, 2019; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty (22) throws the ball against the Cincinnati Reds during the second inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports
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We’ve been talking about it — staring at it on the calendar — for couple months now. 7 of the final 10 games vs. the Cubs. It was circled in the preseason as a potential division-maker, became a serious topic when the Cardinals planted themselves near or at the top of the division for good in midseason, and now it has arrived, as advertised.
The task is at hand; beat the Cubs (and the Diamondbacks in-between) and take the division.
Consider the team records, with the Cardinals sitting at 85 wins while the Cubs and Brewers hold 82. If the Cardinals go only 5-5 in the last 10 games, the Cubs and Brewers would have to go 8-2 to catch them.
The Cardinals need to win 4 of the 7 games against the Cubs to eliminate them on their own. An additional 2 wins in Arizona would force the Brewers to win 9 of their final 10, just to tie.
Yes, these are nervous times, but a 3 game lead with 10 games to play is pretty substantial. The math is in their favor.
They just have to win.
So What Are They Up Against?
From an outside perspective, it has seemed like the conversation around the Cubs as been as much about on-field play as it has been about Maddon’s future. They claim they aren’t talking about it, yet there is a new article published on the topic every 3 days. Maybe it’s not a distraction, but it seems like one.
Meanwhile, the conversation around the Cardinals — other than Carlos Martinez’s health issue — has been totally focused on baseball. How boring.
The door is open for the Cardinals to effectively, if not literally, put the Cubs away. For the Cubs, anything less and 3 wins in this series is a back breaker. They can’t afford to leave the weekend with no ground gained, or with ground lost.
The Cubs are without Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez. You don’t wish injuries on anyone, but I’m not sad about them being on the sidelines.
Rizzo against the Cardinals at Wrigley has been stupid in his career.
These are his numbers:
68 Games, .342/.465/.517, 25 XBH, 37 Runs, 40 RBIs, 167 wRC+
It’s been even more dominating in recent years, after the Cubs loaded up on talent elsewhere in the lineup.
Since the start of 2015:
44 Games, .377/.500/.541 with a 180 wRC+
Yeah, not sad to see him out of the lineup.
Baez has been much more tame in his career, posting a well below average 73 wRC+ against the Cardinals at Wrigley. However, he has been much better over the last 2 seasons, posting a 116 wRC+ in the 16 mathups since the start of 2018. His power is always dangerous and his defense can be game altering at times, so again, he will not be missed.
That said, the Cubs still have good hitters. However, it’s significantly less daunting without 2 of their very best.
On the pitching side, the Cardinals miss out on a struggling Jon Lester.
They must solve Kyle Hendricks in Game 1 and set the tone. I believe that it is vital for the Cardinals to win 2 of the first 3 games — against Hendricks, Quintana, or Hamels — so as to make the Darvish game on Sunday as irrelevant as possible. He has been really good in the 2nd half, with a 2.70 ERA and 37.6% K% since the All-Star game.
Must split. Winning 3 of 4 would leave the Cubs on life support.
Keep an Eye on the Brewers
The odds are long for the Brewers to overtake the Cardinals, even with the Cardinals and Cubs “beating up on each other” this weekend. Even with San Diego, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Colorado on their schedule, winning 8 out of 10 isn’t easy. Cincinnati, despite their losing record, are not pushovers. Coors Field can be tricky, even though the Rockies aren’t good.
However, the key for the Cardinals to just keep winning. Win each of the next 3 series and the Brewers must win out. Split in Chicago and win the other 2 series, the Brewers can only afford 1 loss. It’s that simple. They are in the driver’s seat. 6 wins over the final 10 games *should* hold off the Brewers and win the division. Just win.
While the offense remains inconsistent at best, the pitching staff has rounded into shape. The bullpen as a whole has lost some shine recently, but they are still solid and the closer is getting into a groove.
Carlos Martinez was a rollcoaster — even when good — for much of the year, producing just 8 “clean” (0 baserunners via hit, BB, or HBP) appearances in his first 32 games. He has had 8 clean outings in last 9 appearances. Suddenly he doesn’t have us reaching for the Tums, he’s just shutting teams down, and it’s right on time.
The rotation has also been doing well this month, with the following ERA’s for September:
Wainwright – 0.33
Flaherty – 1.23
Wacha – 1.64
Hudson – 1.89
Mikolas – 4.09
4 of those guys are rolling and even Mikolas is producing at better than a Quality Start (6IP/3ER) level.
This is how they have overcome the offensive shortcoming to be in the position that they are. It is what must continue to keep them in that position.
Keep an eye on Goldschmidt. Despite a .255 batting average, Goldy has a .441 OBP and .529 SLG in September. The .971 OPS trails only July as his best month this season, as does his 155 wRC+. Teams have been pitching around him to face Ozuna and DeJong, as evidenced by a wild 25% walk-rate. However, his 6 doubles are than any other single month, and he still has 10 games left to play. He is looking more like himself lately, but the hitters behind him need to start making teams pay for walking him.
Tommy Edman should probably hit 5th at this point, with DeJong (he as a .607 OPS and 30.4% K% in September) falling down the lineup. There needs to be a consistent bat in the 5th spot, be it Edman or even Molina. Too many rallies lately have reach their end because Ozuna and DeJong failed to get the job done.
That’s all I’ve got today.
Let’s go beat the Cubs!
Thanks for reading.