The St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs already have one of the best rivalries in baseball, but add a chase for the National League Central crown, and it is glorious. The Cardinals took care of business against the Nationals in their last series, taking two of three from the Nationals, while the Cubs lost two of three at home against the Reds. Looking at the schedules, this is where the Cubs were hoping to close the gap. Instead, the Cardinals added to their lead, moving to three games up entering this huge four-game series.
Both teams need to win the series because Milwaukee, who is tied with the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot, has by far the easiest schedule down the stretch. These two teams meet for seven of their last 10 games. It is hard to imagine the Cubs making the playoffs unless they win at least five of the seven games.
Cardinals Continue To Win
If you look at the rosters head to head, hardly anyone would argue that the Cubs don’t have the better roster. But, since the middle of the summer, the Cardinals have continued to win and have pulled away in the division. They currently sit three games ahead of the Cubs and Brewers in the division at 85-67 and are 36-38 on the road.
St. Louis will send one of the hottest pitchers in the second half to the mound in right-hander Jack Flaherty (10-8, 3.05 ERA). Since July 7, he is 6-3 with a 1.07 ERA over 13 starts. Opponents are hitting .152 against him during that stretch. In eight games (seven starts) against the Cubs in his career, Flaherty is 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA, including 1-1 with a 3.80 ERA in four starts vs. Chicago this year.
Cardinals hitters have seen Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks plenty in the past. They have combined for 272 plate appearances against him with a team OPS of .669. Marcell Ozuna has been the most productive against the crafty right-hander with an OPS of 1.124. He is 12 of 29 with two home runs.
Cubs Playing For Their Playoff Lives
If the Cubs can’t at least take four of seven from the Cardinals down the stretch, they will not only lose the Central Division, but they will likely miss the playoffs altogether. The Brewers have an easy schedule and with only a three-game series in between the two St. Louis series, the chances of the Cubs winning the second Wild Card spot seems small. The Cubs enter at 82-70 and are 51-26 at home.
The Cubs send their most consistent pitcher to the mound in Hendricks (11-9, 3.26 ERA). He has won three straight decisions, including a solid outing his last time up against Pittsburgh, allowing only one run in six innings.
Hendricks has had the Cardinals’ number with a career record of 8-2 with a 2.74 ERA in 17 career starts against the Cardinals. This season, he is 3-0 with an outstanding ERA of 0.39 ERA. He has allowed only one run in 23 innings.
Chicago will have to find an answer against Flaherty, who would most likely win the Cy Young for the second half if there was such a thing. In 131 plate appearances, the Cubs have a team OPS of .686 against Flaherty. The only Cub with an OPS above .750 against him is Anthony Rizzo, who is out with an ankle injury.
Chicago has Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Rizzo, Brandon Kintzler and Craig Kimbrel injured. Russell, Kintzler, and Kimbrel may be able to play at some point this series.
This game couldn’t be any tighter as the matchup is a pick ’em with both teams listed at -105 and the over/under of 7. The Cubs hitters haven’t had much success against Flaherty, and I don’t see that changing the way he has been pitching. It will be a low-scoring affair, but I see the Cardinals edging the Cubs in this one late in the game.
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