Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cardinals 85-67   Cubs 82-70

GAMETIMES: Thursday 6:15, Friday-Sunday 1:20

TV: Fox Thursday, ABC 7 Friday, WGN Saturday, NBCSN Sunday

I DON’T LIKE YOU EITHER: Viva El Birdos

SERIES PREVIEW POSTS

Depth Charts & Pitching Staffs

Cardinals Spotlight: Doing What They Wouldn’t

And so it’s come to this. After a four-year stretch where it generally felt like the Cubs had switched the dynamic on THE AULD RIVAL FROM THE SOUTH, everyone in blue is prepping for the most gruesome of deaths. Maybe it comes this weekend. Maybe the more cruel twist comes on the final weekend of the season. Either way, a feeling you thought you might have left behind has come roaring back. It’s almost comforting in a way, because we’ve lived with it for so long.

Oh, but there’s hope too. A hope that this infuriating, unsatisfying, unenjoyable season could find salvation. Perhaps the previous five and a half months wouldn’t sting as badly if it ends by sticking it to the Cardinals over seven games in 11 days. Perhaps the stale and foul taste of this season can be washed away. It’s possible, it’s just that it’s not something we’re accustomed to.

In all likelihood, the Cubs have to take at least five of the seven games on offer from The Red Menace. And even that could only likely ensure a tie, as in the interim the Cubs have the Pirates while the Cardinals have three games that looked like they might be treacherous a couple weeks ago against the Diamondbacks, but assuredly aren’t now. Anything less than a sweep of the Pirates could doom the Cubs. But we’ll get there.

A split here and it’s over. Three games down with six to go means even a 6-0 finish isn’t going to be enough. And of course there’s the small matter of the Brewers lurking as well, and they finish with one against San Diego today, and then Pirates, Reds, Rockies. It could open up for them if the Cubs and Cardinals hold each other in place.

And the real fear is that the Cardinals can expose two of the bigger problems the Cubs have through their rotation. One is that the absence of Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez is just too much to carry. The second is that the inconsistency within the Cubs rotation is another they can’t overcome thanks to the solidity of the Cardinals’ staff. The second one is debatable, as the matchups have come out ok. Both will throw top of the rotation guys in Kyle Hendricks and Jack Flaherty tonight. Both will throw question marks in Jose Quintana and Michael Wacha tomorrow, though you’d trust Q slightly more than Wacha. The weekend finishes with what look like advantages for one team (Saturday for the Cards with Hudson, Sunday for the Cubs with Darvish). But baseball doesn’t work that way.

While the Cardinals offense over the whole of the season hasn’t been impressive, it’s been more than enough of late to go by the Cubs as they sat around poking a carcass with a stick. Perhaps it was their own. Tommy Edman, the kind of young go-getter the Cardinals always produce that pop for a few weeks and make you want to reach through the screen and either throttle him or just yourself before they sink back into anonymity, has been their hottest hitter. Right behind him is the Shit Demon behind the plate, and you’re already picturing some piece of garbage off his fists landing softly enough over Zobrist’s head to not actually make a sound to drive in two in the 7th of one of these. You’ve seen it too many times. Kolten Wong and Paul Goldschmidt are both on one as well, so the challenge is set.

And you don’t want to be trailing this team late, because they’ve fashioned quite the shutdown pen of late. I wouldn’t trust Carlos Martinez with anything valuable, too many memories of him going to the zoo at the slightest hint of trouble, but he also hasn’t given up an earned run in a month. Ryan Helsly, Giovanny Gallegos, and Dominic Leone have all been great the past month. The Cardinals know exactly how they’re getting to the last out. The Cubs have to guess every night.

It doesn’t shape up well. But it doesn’t have to. A Bryant or Schwarber binge. Quintana rediscovering what worked in August to join what Hendricks and Darvish have continually been doing. A meltdown from any Cardinal reliever, and it could all swing back.

The Cubs have a lot to overcome without even considering the opponent, like injuries and general malaise. We’ll find out if they can ever truly lock it in as they claimed they would all season, or if they’ve always wanted it to just be over like most of us have.

Pessimism is for assholes. C’mon Cubs, give us a reason to keep hoping for at least another week. We’ve got nothing else to do anyway.

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.

Baseball

When you’re the Cardinals, and you’ve spent the past three seasons staring at the lights when it’s all over, that creates a sense of urgency. After all, three playoff-less season, after a first-round dry heave to your biggest rival, is purely unacceptable in Mos Eisley. So the Cardinals went out and got the biggest bat there was, perennial MVP-candidate Paul Goldschmidt. Finally, Matt Carpenter would have some support, and if Fowler bounced back and Harrison Bader took a step and Marcell Ozuna got back to normal, the Cardinals should have a scary offense. All of those things have basically happened…except for Goldschmidt being the weapon of mass destruction he’s been. Best laid plans of mice and men and all that…

The Cards offense has been middle of the pack so far this season, except when it comes to on-base percentage as they do have a lot of guys who take walks. Carpenter got off to his usual slow start, though is rounding into form as he usually does when it gets warm (and then falls apart in September from carrying the team). But Goldschmidt hasn’t come along, and even though he’s having a fine season–115 wRC+, 345 wOBA–they’re way off his career norms (149, .390)

So what’s up? On the surface, Goldy’s walks are a touch down and his Ks are a touch up, but nothing that would suggest any long-term problems or anything more than a two-month spike. He’s whiffing at a touch more pitches, but not so much that you worry about bat-speed. If there’s one noticeable difference, it’s that he’s making way more contact on pitches outside of the zone (71.4% this year to 66.7% last) and far less in the zone (77.9 from 82.2). But that’s not really the problem, judging by his slugging zones this year vs. his career:

There’s a couple deadzones at the top there, but that might just be a quirk of the season still being relatively young. You wouldn’t want to go there too often, you wouldn’t think. And pitchers aren’t.

Where Goldschmidt has seen some changes to this year is he’s seeing an uptick in changes and curves. And he’s been atrocious on them. On curveballs he’s hitting .100 with a slugging of .100. On change-ups he’s hitting .125 with a slugging of….. .125. Guess there’s a pattern there. The averages are some 150 points below his career marks and the slugging isn’t even worth talking about. He’s had a bit of rough luck on those pitches, but he can’t make an argument of being undone when he’s barely hitting the ball much less hard on them.

So why so? Usually when a player has this much trouble with offspeed pitches, the suggestion would be that he’s cheating on fastballs and is getting caught ahead. Goldy’s numbers on fastballs are a touch worse than his career norms. He’s whiffing at a few more swings on fastballs (26% to 22%), a few less line-drives (27% to 29%) and perhaps just a touch more worrying is that he’s popping up more of them (10% to 7%).

Goldschmidt is 31, and will turn 32 in September. Lately there’s been a train of thought that it is at 32 or so when players start to struggle with the flood of velocity in the game today. It’s hard to get there with Goldschmidt yet, especially as he’s carrying a 50% hard-hit rate, by far the highest of his career. Still, Statcast doesn’t think he’s performing below where he should be, as his expected wOBA is .356 which isn’t far off from the actual .350 he’s putting up.

Again, two months. Again, this is Paul Goldschmidt. Still, if he remains as vulnerable to offspeed pitches throughout the season, and the slightly less squared up fastballs continue, there’s only one way this slope goes.

Baseball

vs.

RECORDS: Cardinals 20-11   Cubs 16-12

GAMETIMES: Friday 1:20, Saturday 3:05, Sunday 6:05

TV: NBCSN Friday, WGN Saturday, ESPN Sunday (Oh boy)

GROSS: Viva El Birdos

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Jack Flaherty vs. Kyle Hendricks

Michael Wacha vs. Yu Darvish

Adam Wainwright vs. Jose Quintana

PROBABLE CARDINALS LINEUP

Matt Carpenter – 3B

Paul Goldschmidt – 1B

Paul DeJong – SS

Marcel Ozuna – LF

Jose Martinez – RF

Yadier Molina – C

Kolten Wong – 2B

Harrison Bader – CF

PROBABLE CUBS LINEUP

Daniel Descalso – 2B

Kris Bryant – 3B

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Willson Contreras – C

Ben Zobrist – RF

Kyle Schwarber – LF

Jason Heyward – CF

 

And now to it. The first invasion of the unwashed and illiterate from West East St. Louis, as the Cubs and Cardinals test out each other for the first time at the top of the Central Division. The Cardinals loaded up with Paul Goldschmidt this winter, and while the Brewers may crow about last season, it was the Cubs the Cardinals had in mind for what they had to overhaul. And even with the horrific start, the season’s first month has borne that out.

The Cardinals are baseball’s hottest team at the moment, winning eight of their last 10. Goldy has been the juice to the offense the Cards hoped, as they’re second in runs, third in OBP, and fourth in wOBA. But he’s not doing it alone. Paul DeJong is slugging nearly .600 and playing excellently in the field which is the real upset. Marcell Ozuna has been the player the Cards thought they were trading for last year. Even Dexter Fowler has returned from the dead, or being a sleeper spy, and his managing a 133 wRC+. Goldschmidt is Goldschmidt, and he’ll be in the top-10 of the MVP picture because that’s just a thing that he does.

How much of this is real? Fowler’s .407 BABIP would suggest that’s mirage. DeJong is getting serious rub of the green as well so far. But Wong, Goldy, Ozuna, and even Harrison Bader are probably doing this most if not all the season. The wooden spoon in the lineup so far is former stalwart Matt Carpenter, who has made starting slowly something of a signature move at this point. Then he’ll hit 25 homers June-August before going back into the toilet (really anywhere in STL) for the season’s last month. Also he’s a performance art piece at third.

The rotation though might be as big of a problem as the offense is a force. Flaherty is striking out over 10 hitters per nine, but he can’t seem to keep the ball in the park and he doesn’t get a ton of grounders. His HR/FB rate won’t stay at near 25% all season but seeing as how half the contact he’s giving up has been of the hard variety, this could be a problem all season. Especially if everything is in the air. Adam Wainwright is a million years old and is having some of the same control problems he did last year as he can’t miss bats the way he used to. Michael Wacha is also in need of a GPS, and seems destined to always break your heart (or entertain you endlessly, if you hate the Cardinals like most of the world). Last year’s hero Miles Mikolas can’t get anyone out and is giving up twice the homers he did last year, at least at that pace. Sometimes when you don’t miss bats this is what happens. There’s some asshole named Dakota taking starts. This will be an issue for the Cards all season, even if Mikolas straightens out.

The pen has been able to bail them out. Jordan Hicks is finally more than just a ridiculous fastball that people still hit anyway. John Gant has a 0.90 ERA. Something named John Brebbia has also been a weapon. There are two other guys averaging more than 10Ks per nine innings, and neither of them is Andrew Miller. Miller has been better of late but has spent most of the year spraying deliveries around like an Uzi. Perhaps it was a good idea to not hand him a multi-year deal after he showed decline and injury problems last year.

For the Cubs, they’ll need Hendricks to find it again and Darvish to build on the last four innings of his last outing, otherwise the Cards can sprint out in games in a hurry. Hendricks’s first inning problems against Goldschmidt today isn’t exactly settling the stomach. But the Cubs should also get some runs off this outfit.

A sweep puts the Cubs in first. Just sayin’…