Well, my friends, this is a big one. It may even be *the* big one.
That may feel like an exaggeration, but while the second-place Cardinals are just .500 for the year, they’re also only 3.5 games back with five games on tap – the last five times this team will meet this season, no less. With that said, this is a much bigger series for the Cardinals than it is the Cubs, given where each team is in the standings.
Speaking of which … it’s pretty confusing to grasp the true status of the standings given how few games the Cardinals have played so far, so let’s run through the possible outcomes, identifying how each won/loss combo would leave these teams relative to each other at the end of play on Monday.
Cubs Win All Five Games
– Cubs (27-15): .642 winning percentage
– Cardinals (14-19): .424
Cubs Win Four Games
– Cubs (26-16): .619
– Cardinals (15-18): .454
Cubs Win Three Games
– Cubs (25-17): .595
– Cardinals (16-17): .484
Cubs Win Two Games
– Cubs (24-18): .595
– Cardinals (17-16): .515
Cubs Win One Game
– Cubs (23-19): .547
– Cardinals (18-15): .545
Cubs Do Not Win
– Cubs (22-20): .523
– Cardinals (19-14): .575
So basically, if the Cubs win just two of these games, they’ll still be ahead of the Cardinals, but only barely (to say nothing of where the Brewers/Reds may be). That’s far too close for comfort. By contrast, win three of these games, and the Cardinals are going to have an extremely tough time climbing the standings down the stretch (to say nothing of the crush of games they still have to play in limited time). That’s a very big pivot point, which makes three wins the ultimate target for the weekend.
But remember, the season isn’t over after that. The Brewers (4.5 back) and the Reds (6.0 games) could make up some ground on both teams this weekend, just before they both play the Cubs immediately thereafter. We’ve been talking about it for weeks, but we’re finally here. The Central could be largely decided by this time next Sunday. The Cubs can do a lot this weekend to put it out of reach, but they’ve obviously had trouble closing each of the last two Septembers. Let’s hope this one is different.
Note: Although any home field advantage that comes with being a first seed in the division may be weaker than usual if the games aren’t actually played at Wrigley Field, the sooner the Cubs can clinch the division, the sooner they can rest their players and more perfectly align their pitchers ahead of the postseason. That’s not nothing. Ask the 2016 team.
We’re Going Streaking
The Chicago Cubs (22-15) just took two of three from the Pirates, but are just 5-5 over their last ten games. They’ve had their chances to truly break away, but haven’t quite managed it yet.
The St. Louis Cardinals (14-14) just took two of three from the Reds after dropping two of three to the Indians. They’re .500 for the season, but 4-6 in their last ten.
Game Times and Broadcasts Info
• Friday, September 4th at 7:15 CT on MARQ, 670 The Score
• Saturday, September 5th at 4:15 CT on MARQ, MLBN 670 The Score
• Saturday, September 5th at TBD on MARQ, 670 The Score
• Sunday, September 6th at 6:08 CT on ESPN, 670 The Score
• Monday, September 7th at 3:10 CT on MARQ, ESPN, 670 The Score
Game 1 (Friday): Yu Darvish (R) v. Jack Flaherty (R)
Game 2 (Saturday): TBD v. Adam Wainwright (R)
Game 3 (Saturday): TBD v. TBD
Game 4 (Sunday): Jon Lester (L) v. TBD
Game 5 (Monday): Kyle Hendricks (R) v. TBD
• C – Willson Contreras
• 1B – Anthony Rizzo
• 2B – Jason Kipnis/Nico Hoerner
• 3B – Kris Bryant
• SS – Javy Baez
• LF – Kyle Schwarber
• CF – Ian Happ(?)
• RF – Jason Heyward
• DH – Jose Martinez
Unavailable: Andrew Chafin, Tyler Chatwood, Jose Quintana, Brad Wieck, James Norwood, Daniel Descalso
St. Louis Cardinals
• C – Yadier Molina
• 1B – Paul Goldschmidt
• 2B – Kolten Wong
• 3B – Matt Carpenter
• SS – Paul DeJong
• LF – Tyler O’Neill
• CF – Harrison Bader
• RF – Dylan Carson
• DH – Brad Miller
Unavailable: Dexter Fowler, Genesis Cabrera(?), Carlos Martinez, Matt Wieters, Kodi Whitley, Miles Mikolas, John Brebbia, Ricardo Sanchez, Andrew Miller(?), Austin Dean(?)
Keep An Eye Out For …
Cubs Pitcher: Yu Darvish is going to have to keep it up big time tonight, as the Cubs face the Cardinals best pitcher, Jack Flaherty. He has obviously been very good this season, including a 6.0 IP, 1ER, 1BB, 7K start against the Cardinals a couple weeks ago, but he may need to be even better than very good if the Cubs are gonna beat Flaherty.
Cubs Player: Ian Happ. Let’s hope the Cubs best hitter and leadoff man is not only healthy, but not too shaken up after taking a ball of the eye in yesterday’s finale against the Pirates. We can’t overstate how important he’s been to this lineup, let alone to the stabilizing a leadoff spot that has been wandering aimlessly since Dexter Fowler departed in 2016.
Cardinals Pitcher: Adam Wainwright is pitching the first-half of the double-header on Saturday, coming off a complete game, 2ER performance with 9Ks agains the Indians on the 30th (that was his best start by game score since May … 2017). Getting to him early and forcing the Cardinals into the bullpen could help the Cubs throughout the series, where every single pitcher is going to be of crucial importance.
Cardinals Player: Paul Goldschmidt has been absolutely on fire since the start of the last series against the Cubs, slashing .339/.512/.508 (185 wRC+). Yeah. That’s an OBP higher than his not-low slugging percentage. He’s got just one homer during that stretch, but he’s hit 7 doubles and has taken 21(!) walks in 82 plate appearances. The Cubs cannot let him beat them, but clearly pitching around him isn’t much of an option either.