After a frustrating series sweep at the hands of Milwaukee, Chicago entered its series against New York on a down note. Not only did the sweep cut the division lead from a comfortable five games down to a more worrisome two, but the offense struggled mightily against the Brewers, with the Cubs scoring a grand total of three runs over three games.
Enter the Mets.
The Chicago offense exploded in a three-game sweep, outscoring New York 39-14. While there is little doubt the quality of the Mets’ pitching staff played a role in the outburst, the at-bats looked much better than they had over the previous eight games. The pitching wasn’t always particularly sharp, but overall, that series was exactly what the Cubs needed following the prior letdown. The competition now takes a step up, however, as the Cardinals come to Chicago for a critical three-game set.
For all intents and purposes, August 30 appeared to be the day the Cardinals gave up on the 2017 season. Not only did they drop a game to the Brewers to fall to 66-66, six games out of first, but management also decided to unload starting pitcher Mike Leake to the Seattle Mariners. That move proved unpopular in the clubhouse, with pitcher Lance Lynn voicing his disapproval to the media.
Since then, however, St. Louis has been on a roll, going 11-3 over its last 14 games and cutting its deficit in the division to three games. While all of those games came against teams with sub-.500 records, the Cardinals did what they needed to do to get back into a race they seemed all but ready to get out of just over two weeks ago.
What has been the key to their run over the past month? Strong pitching. In the month of September, the St. Louis staff has a 2.61 ERA, 3.58 FIP and 1.10 WHIP to go along with a 25.3 percent hard-hit rate (lowest in baseball during that stretch) and 83.5 percent strand rate. The Cardinals’ expected starters for this series have been even better, as Carlos Martinez (1-0, 1.20 ERA/2.15 FIP), Michael Wacha (2-0, 1.93/2.87) and Lance Lynn (1-1, 1.89/4.05) have all been on their game this month.
On the offensive side, St. Louis has been solidly in the middle of the pack in the NL during September, averaging five runs a game with a team slash line of .237/.324/.417. Despite the averageness of that line, they wouldn’t be the Cardinals if they didn’t have someone playing ridiculously over his head, and that player right now is Jose Martinez. The 28-year-old had been good at the plate this season in a reserve role, providing spot starts in the outfield. In the month of September, however, Martinez has been starting regularly and has exploded to the tune of .429/.489/.738 with a wRC+ of 221.
Game Time and Broadcast Info
- Friday, September 15 at 1:20 CT on ABC-7, MLB Network (out-of-market only)
- Saturday, September 16 at 3:05 CT on CSN Plus
- Sunday, September 17 at 7:05 on CSN, TBS (out-of-market only)
What to Watch For
- Wacha has struggled against the Cubs in his career and 2017 has been no different. He is 0-1 with a 9.58 ERA and 1.55 WHIP against Chicago this season, moving his career numbers to 4-5 with a 6.45 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 14 games (12 starts). His chief nemeses during that time? Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. The Cubs’ slugging first baseman is hitting a robust .441/.457/.735 with three home runs in 34 career AB, while Bryant isn’t far behind, slashing .364/.417/.773 with a home run, two doubles, and two triples in 22 AB.
- With three righties taking the mound for St. Louis, it’s tough to say whether or not Albert Almora Jr. will see more playing time, but he probably should. Evan already laid out a compelling case for why Almora should see more time against right-handers, so I won’t do that here. Instead, I’ll just post his stats so far this month: .333 BA, .708 SLG, 2 HR, 10 RBI in 24 AB. With Jason Heyward and Jon Jay struggling of late (Thursday night not withstanding), I think it’s time for Almora to get his shot.
- With under a month remaining in the season, Randal Grichuk is hitting just .238/.284/.471 with a wRC+ of 92. Against the Cubs, however, Grichuk has morphed into a Hall of Famer, hitting .400/.455/.967 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in 30 AB in 2017. There always seems to be one of those guys on the Cardinals’ roster who just kills Chicago and it appears Grichuk is that guy now.
- Despite playing sparingly against the Brewers last weekend, Kyle Schwarber has been killing it this month. Yes, it is a small sample size, but I don’t know how you can sit a guy slashing .346/.414/.615 with a wRC+ of 167, even if it is spread over just 29 plate appearances. Expanding the view out a bit, Schwarber has been pretty good in general this season against right-handers at home. Over 188 PA, the Cubs left fielder is hitting .273/.362/.600 with 15 home runs and a wRC+ of 146. With three righties going for the Cardinals, expect to see his name on the lineup card all weekend.