Baseball

While this series doesn’t have to serve as an execution in the public square, it’s hard for Cubs fans to feel otherwise given the whiskey-dick nature of the entire season. Should it go that way, the epitaphs will range far and wide, even though it will mostly do with what the Cubs didn’t (or wouldn’t) do in the offseason. There will be articles about “Cardinals Way” or “Magic,” and you’ll customarily vomit up your ankle joints. Some will speculate whether this signals a tectonic shift in the NL Central, back to the way things were forever, or whether this was just a one-off. We’re sure you’re very excited.

But one thing to focus on, if the Cardinals should hang on, is that they’ve done what the Cubs refused to do. Because this isn’t a great lineup, the Cardinals have had to pitch their way through. And they’ve done it behind a couple of first-round picks and developed relievers. We know, it sounds illegal, but it turns out teams can actually do that.

The Cardinals spent 1st round picks in recent years on Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson. The Cubs will see both this series. You’ll recall the Cubs policy has been to spend high picks on hitters, because they’re more of a sure-thing (and boy don’t Happ and Almora and Russell look like sure-things!), and they would either develop the pitching in bulk in later rounds or simply buy it on the open market. And it worked there for a minute.

But they’ve been passed by a team led by Flaherty and Hudson. Flaherty is the unquestioned ace of the staff, sporting a 4-to-1 K/BB ratio while striking out over 10 hitters per nine innings and keeping his ERA right around 3.00. He’s been otherworldly of late, as he had an ERA of 0.71 in August and 1.23 in September so far. His K/BB ratio is nearly six in that time.

Flaherty of late has been throwing what is a plus-fastball less in favor of a two-seam or sinker. It’s gotten him a ton of grounders, as over half of his sinkers end up killing worms, and this month it’s been near 75%. His slider has been the real weapon, as it had been generating over half whiffs on swings taken against it. Of late though, it’s been losing some tilt and some of those whiffs, and that might be one concern the Cards have closing out the season. Flaherty has already thrown 23 more innings than he did last year, and perhaps fatigue is showing in the finish on that slider.

Hudson isn’t as explosive, but he’s been no less effective during this Cardinals charge/plague. He carried a 2.38 ERA in August and a 1.89 so far in September. He doesn’t have near the strikeout power that Flaherty does, but he does his work by getting an obscene number of ground-balls. And for once, the Cardinals infield isn’t a collection of generally bewildered carnies. They catch everything thanks to Wong and DeJong.

Hudson gets there through the use of a power sinker that averages about 94 MPH but doesn’t get a lot of swings-and-misses. It’s meant for hitter to pound into the ground, and that’s precisely what they do. Hudson will feature a cutter more often to righties, and that’s another meant to generate ground-balls.

Given that Hudson is 25 and Flaherty 23, it feels like the top of the rotation down there in Mos Eisley for the foreseeable future. Wouldn’t that be nice instead of wondering what might fall off Hamels tomorrow or if Lester is finished?

In the pen, the Cards have been able to convert Carlos Martinez from a occasional boob of a starter into an effective reliever. John Brebbia and Giovanny Gallegos were brought into their minor league system either via Rule 5 or trade and turned into effective relievers. That’s another thing the Cubs haven’t done in a while.

Now, the pen is hardly long-term fixed, and given the volatile nature of any pen could turn back into a suck factory next year. Still, St. Louis was able to fashion a successful one for a season out of spare parts and leftovers, which the Cubs have been angling for for a couple season. They’ve had to solve that with established free agents, which has had a mixed record. Then again, Andrew Miller is essentially a scarecrow these days as well.

Even with that, Flaherty and Hudson will anchor whatever the Cardinals are for the next few years. They’ve led the Cardinals to a three-game lead with 10 to go. Meanwhile, first-round flameouts like Happ and Almora and a half-season of meh (followed by one of greatness, to be fair) from Schwarber are a big reason the Cubs are where they are.

Maybe all policies on the draft shouldn’t be so ironclad.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 56-49   Cardinals 56-49

GAMETIMES: Tuesday and Wednesday 7:15, Thursday 6:15

TV: NBCSN Tuesday and Thursday, WGN Wednesday

BARF: Viva El Birdos

PITHCING MATCHUPS

Yu Darvish vs. Adam Wainwright

Kyle Hendricks vs. Miles Mikolas

Jon Lester vs. Jack Flaherty

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Willson Contreras – C

Kris Bryant – 3B

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Jason Heyward – RF

Robel Garcia – 2B

Ian Happ – CF

PROBABLE CARDINALS LINEUP

Tommy Edman – 3B

Dexter Fowler – CF

Jose Martinez – RF

Paul Goldschmidt – 1B

Paul DeJong – SS

Tyler O’Neill – LF

Kolten Wong – 2B

Matt Wieters  – C

 

So I would love to tell you that this is where the Cubs can make things right. Even just a series win would leave them with a 4-5 road trip, which isn’t exactly acceptable but could be explained away by the anal horseshoe the Giants are toting around. It wouldn’t be total disaster, let’s say. If we want to get ambitious, a sweep would leave the Cubs with 5-4, and even with all the problems and concerns and ulcers provided over the weekend, in the end you’d have to be satisfied with that. As long as you continue to clean up at home, that is. You’d put three games between you and the Red Menace, with an August schedule that isn’t that demanding.

But if you were betting people, and drawing on the life lessons you’ve learned, would you lean toward the Cardinals making things all right or pouring more salt in the wound? I thought so.

What’s insulting is the Cubs shouldn’t be anywhere near this team. Its offense is not good. Its rotation is not good. Only its pen has been able to keep them from sinking into the locker, and the Cubs have hung and hung just long enough for one hot-streak to put St. Louis right in the middle of this. For shame.

While Godlschmidt’s binge the past month has propelled them, over the year as a whole only Ozuna has been a plus-hitter for them, and he’s on the shelf. DeJong continues to deflate from April, Fowler has been hot of late but overall barely average. And worse yet, this team is beat up. Carpenter and Ozuna are either unlikely to feature this series (Carpenter) or out (Ozuna). Molina is still out, though whisper this around that part of the country but Wieters has been better offensively than Yadier would have managed because if they hear you they’ll definitely whip their arm fat at you. But of course, they lose their “soul” without Yadi, or some such horseshit.

The rotation has been the very definition of “meh.” Not one carries an ERA below 3.80 nor above 4.20, which can’t be called anything other than fine. Jack Flaherty has been really good the past month, but Waino, Ponce de Leon (get a new name, jackass), and Hudson have been straight gasoline. Mikolas has evened out a bit with three quality starts in a row and four out of his last five, and of course is just the special kind of fuckwit who will allow the Cubs two hits over seven while striking out like, one guy. Can’t wait.

It’s the pen where lies the Cards’ strength. They strike out the second-most hitters in the NL, have the second-best ERA and FIP. Over the past month they’ve been the best in the league in pretty much every category. Giovanny Gallegos, John Brebbia, Andrew Miller have all been lights-out. And now converted starters Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez are coming out of there, with the latter acting as a de facto closer at times. Though you still wouldn’t trust him to not go to the zoo for an inning, he’s just less likely to do that when he’s only pitching for one inning. It would be a good idea to not enter the back half of games trailing. Not that it really matters with the Cubs’ pen, because they’ll soon be trailing anyway. The dark arts would swallow the Cubs in the late innings when they had a good pen in that haven of asshoolery, so why would now be any different?

For the Cubs, one of the bigger stories will be off the field in the next two days, as in what they do before the One Deadline To Rule Them All, assuming the Ricketts Family keeps the billions somehow concealed from view to the point where even they can’t see it. Truly a wondrous trick. The Cubs need at least one more arm in the pen, and probably another bat, but probably can’t get both. Hail Marys on Zobrist and Happ will probably the orders of the day.

I would say the Cubs need dominant outings from their starters, but they got that in the first two in Milwaukee and lost both. What they need is the offense to actually assert itself for three games, which it hasn’t done on the road in who the fuck knows. Score a goddamn touchdown every day and worry about the rest later.

This is now the business end of the season. Keep in mind that starting 8/27, the Cubs will have two days off the rest of the season. They don’t want to hit that stretch looking up at anyone, which means they need head-from-rectum removal right fucking now. But it feels like we keep saying that.