Michael Wacha, the Cardinals’ starter for Game 3 tonight, has had a nice little season thus far. With a 17-7 record over 30 starts, a 3.38 ERA, and a 1.21 WHIP, he looked like a really solid member of what was a very strong rotation on paper. Wacha’s peripheral numbers (3.87 FIP, 3.88 xFIP) indicate that there may have been some luck involved with the ERA, but not a great deal. Again, he was a really good pitcher this season.
But when you look some of the splits, you’ll see that the Cubs have a really good shot at getting to the second-year man. Wacha’s 3.53 ERA on the road significantly outpaces the 3.18 he was able to put up at Busch Stadium, and his 4.01 second-half ERA is more than a full run higher than the 2.93 he put up prior to the break. Considering he’s both on the road and in the second half, I think these trends work in the Cubs’ favor.
Speaking of, Wacha hasn’t exactly been a world-beater when facing his rivals in 2015. In 4 starts, the big righty went 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA over only 21 innings pitched. He did strike out 20 batters, but allowed 4 home runs and a total of 16 earned runs over the course of those games. The starts were split between Wrigley and Busch and between the halves of the season.
His lone win came on June 27th in St. Louis, when he threw 6 innings of 1-run ball. Since then, however, Wacha has allowed 5, 6, and 4 runs to the Cubs over 6-, 5-, and 4-inning outings, respectively.
One area in which Wacha may have a bit of an advantage tonight is in his reverse splits, which is to say he tends to get better results against lefties than righties. Right-handed hitters slashed .248/.312/.404 against Wacha, while their left-handed counterparts scraped together a measly .212/.284/.333 line. The Cubs will have 3 lefties in the lineup tonight, with Anthony Rizzo (4), Kyle Schwarber (6), and Miguel Montero (8). And since Dexter Fowler has had no ABs against a righty as a right-handed hitter, we’ll assume the Cubs have a lefty leadoff man too.
I’d be interested to see Joe Maddon flip the script with Dex, as he is a much better hitter from the right side (.326 vs. .228), but I doubt they’d change up something like that at this point in the season. Schwarber, meanwhile, has hit righties nearly twice as well (.278 vs. .143), so I’ll take those odds all day. As we saw in the Wild Card game, all it takes is one mistake to put the game out of reach.
Rizzo actually hits lefties better, so that’s going to be an interesting matchup to watch tonight. Call me crazy, but my money’s on Rizzo here. Montero’s splits in this case really don’t matter much, as they’re both relatively even and relatively insignificant. I say that because any production you get from him in the 8 spot here should be gravy and because I’m secretly hoping my dismissal of his significance spurs a huge night.
Of course, the biggest standing in Wacha’s way is Jake Arrieta, who has been the best pitcher since the history of ever over the last few months. At this point, the only thing standing in the way of Arrieta and continued dominance might be wrecking his bike on the way to the ballpark.
Then again, the Cards seem to have made the bearded biker look somewhat mortal this season. In 4 games against them, Arrieta is 2-1 with a 2.42 ERA over 26 innings with no home runs, 8 walks, and 25 strikeouts. Ah, but here’s the thing: none of those 4 starts came since Arrieta began his insane second-half run. In fact, the ace’s most recent start against the Redbirds game over 3 months ago.
Everything seems to be coming up Milhouse for the Cubs when it comes to Monday’s matchup, but this is baseball and nothing is guaranteed. It’s going to be important for them to jump out early in this one and get that lead established early. The Cardinals are a veteran team and they’re not going to be intimidated easily, but when you’re facing Arrieta with any kind of deficit, it’s impossible not to tighten up a little.
Here’s to hoping we can all be impersonating Fozzy Bear as the Cardinals’ starter becomes a punchline tonight.