It does not get a lot better for baseball followers than the St. Louis Cardinals vs. the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Discipline with a division title and a playoff berth on the road. That is what we have got for the following 4 days, with three extra matchups between the storied rivals — and even probably increased stakes — subsequent weekend at St. Louis.
The Cardinals are available in with a slight lead within the Nationwide League Central, and the protection internet of the wild card for the division runner-up probably has a gap in it, because the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers are bunched with the Cubs and Playing cards within the standings, as nicely. A type of 4 groups shall be ignored of the postseason altogether, and naturally the division winner has an enormous leg up on the wild-card groups.
With that backdrop, ESPN baseball reporters Jesse Rogers and Bradford Doolittle take a look at how each groups bought right here, break down the four-game collection in Chicago and assess the long-term affect the following 10 days may have on the enduring franchises.
Jesse Rogers: It is actually been an odd yr for each the Playing cards and the Cubs. Followers of the NL Central ought to acknowledge how the groups have switched roles this season. It wasn’t way back that St. Louis had hassle working the bases, enjoying protection and holding late leads, however the Playing cards have been glorious in all three classes in 2019. Not so for the Cubs, who lead the league in outs made on the basepath, have dedicated the second-most errors within the NL and have transformed solely 58% of their save possibilities. The Playing cards have dedicated the fewest errors and are first in save share, so the query for Brad is, why have not they pulled away?
Bradford Doolittle: In a nutshell, the Cardinals have finished the little issues very nicely underneath Mike Shildt however have been inconsistent with the massive issues. All of these classes you’ve got talked about have been nice for St. Louis, in addition to hitting with males on base and retaining at-bats alive with foul balls. However the Cardinals are league common in batting, on-base and slugging, which has led to inconsistencies. When the Cardinals rating, they’re powerful to beat. The Cubs look like the polar reverse: They’ve struggled with fundamentals, at occasions, but additionally have proven the power to bludgeon groups. So, Jesse, if the Cubs had performed extra sound baseball this season, what would the standings appear to be within the NL Central?
Rogers: It is a good level. If the Cubs had been simply center of the pack — not even high 5 or high 10 — in a few of these classes, they’d be in first place with a good lead, I think about. It is one among my critiques of Joe Maddon this yr, simply because it was for former Playing cards supervisor Mike Matheny. Fundamentals might be traced again to the supervisor: It won’t be his fault, however it’s taking place on his watch. Anyway, the one factor the Cubs have going for them is they are a crew that previously has carried out at a excessive stage in all these areas, so there nonetheless is an expectation that trait will come out within the remaining video games of the season after which in October. I ponder if Playing cards followers have change into jaded. Do they suppose the alternative, that it may all go south? Or are they satisfied they’ve one of the best crew within the division?
Doolittle: I get a way that till the Cardinals clinch, there’s a sense of impending doom with their followers. For one factor, whereas the introduced attendance totals have remained robust, there have been a ton of no-shows in St. Louis, together with throughout a really engaging collection in opposition to the Nationals with excessive stakes. I get that it is in the course of the week and college is again in session, however aren’t these the “best fans in baseball?” Lots of people I speak to appear uncooked that the crew did not commerce for an additional starter on the deadline, regardless that their rotation has been lights-out ever since. Then once more, when the video board confirmed Cincinnati’s Aristides Aquino going deep in opposition to the Cubs, everybody went nuts. They wish to imagine, however they are not all the way in which there but. If the Playing cards flop in opposition to the Cubs, it may get just a little ugly in St. Louis. What do you suppose: Joe Maddon, your 2020 Cardinals supervisor? Critically, which of those groups is at extra of a crossroads?
Rogers: It is a good query, however it might be laborious to not reply the Cubs. An actual potential to interrupt up their core, not to mention letting go of their World Sequence-winning supervisor, screams “crossroads.” However not less than it is not a rebuild for both crew. Which brings us to those seven conferences over the following 10 days. I will take the simple means out and say the crew at the moment in entrance — St. Louis — goes to hold on. The one caveat is the additional sport performed at Wrigley Discipline. The Cubs’ highway report this season tells us they should win three of 4 in Chicago to offer themselves a great likelihood subsequent week — although they could be capable to pencil in three wins in Pittsburgh in between. There’s a greater likelihood of that occuring than the Playing cards sweeping Arizona, so there are lots of layers to this. If the Playing cards are the favourite as a result of they’re in entrance, it is a 60-40 factor, at finest. Perhaps 55-45.
Doolittle: In principle, the Cardinals match up nicely with Chicago as a result of they’ve gotten fairly stingy with giving up homers, which clearly are the engine that drives the Cubs’ offense. St. Louis has a greater bullpen too, among the best in baseball over the second half. If St. Louis can earn a cut up, I feel they’d take that, they usually have Jack Flaherty — baseball’s hottest pitcher — on the hill in Thursday’s collection opener. If the Redbirds take that one, that ratchets up the strain on Chicago. The climate could possibly be an element too: If the wind is blowing in and helps maintain the scores low, that additionally helps the Cardinals. How a lot do you suppose the working sport may play into any tight matchups right here? It is not fairly Whiteyball, circa 1985, however St. Louis leads the majors in thefts.
Rogers: Usually, I would say “eh” to a base-stealing query, however then once more, that is one other smaller a part of the sport wherein the Cubs have had points. Their catchers lead MLB in errors, and the crew ranks 26th in caught stealing share. These free bases matter in tight video games. We’ll assume there shall be some shut ones over the following seven conferences, so sure, it is a concern. And enjoying with out Anthony Rizzo is a big loss on protection. There are such a lot of large and little issues he does nicely, beginning with the bunt protection he bought damage on, and Rizzo’s absence is sure to point out up in some unspecified time in the future over the following 4 days. Right here is the underside line for the Cubs: They should hit to cowl a bunch of warts. Nico Hoerner has to maintain hitting. Jason Heyward has to maintain hitting. And Kyle Schwarber actually must maintain hitting. All of them do. As a lot because the beginning pitching needs to be a power and cleared the path, the Cubs should cross their fingers and hope for lots of offense, as a result of the rotation has been middling, at finest.
Doolittle: The Cardinals must maintain the video games shut early and switch this right into a battle of bullpens, which St. Louis ought to win. Their rotation can go toe-to-toe with Chicago’s, regardless that the names won’t be as recognizable. Flaherty is throwing higher than anyone on both crew. If Cardinals hitters can keep disciplined, drive up pitch counts and proceed to benefit from their offensive alternatives, they’re going to be in good condition. However St. Louis has vacillated too typically between scoring seven or eight runs after which only a couple. They should even that out and get into that Chicago bullpen.