For the first time since 2019 and only the second time ever, Major League Baseball will be played in London this weekend. The rival Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals are heading across the pond for the two-game London Series. The 2019 London Series, which featured the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, was the first set of MLB regular season games played in Europe.
"I don't take for granted that it's a special treat to be able to do that," Cubs manager David Ross told MLB.com about the London Series. "I love being in a big market where you get to do (stuff like this). The way I look at it is we get to go to a cool venue in London and have fun and play a rivalry game over there in front of fans who don't get to experience baseball. That's good for our game, that's good for us, that's good for our young guys, that's a good experience."
The Cardinals and Cubs were originally scheduled to play a two-game series in London in 2020, though that was canceled because of the pandemic. As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, the London Series was renewed for 2023, 2024, and 2026. Here are the details for this weekend's games:
|Date||Start time||Starting pitchers||TV|
Sat., June 24
1:10 p.m. ET
Sun., June 25
10:10 a.m. ET
The Cardinals and Cubs were both off Thursday and Friday -- MLB has promotional events scheduled during the day Friday -- which gives each team some flexibility to line up its rotation. Stroman, a leading NL Cy Young candidate as we approach the season's midpoint, will be able to start twice in the span of four team games, for example.
Although these two teams have a longstanding and historic rivalry, MLB is not exactly sending its best to London. The Cubs are 36-38 and 3.5 games back in the NL Central. They're five games out of a wild-card spot. The Cardinals have baseball's fifth worst record at 31-44 and are nine games out in a weak division. Still, Cardinals vs. Cubs is always intense. The rivalry is fierce.
"I'm looking forward to it," Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol told the Belleville News-Democrat recently. "You're basically wanting to make sure that you're prepping for it in a way where you get guys there healthy and get them out of there healthy from a travel standpoint, and just the wear and tear of that. But overall, the group's excited about those couple of games. It'll be fun."
Here now are four things you need to know about this weekend's London Series, with a prediction thrown in because why not?
1. There are new dimensions at London Stadium
The 2019 London Series was total chaos. The Yankees swept the Red Sox in the two-game series and the final scores were 17-13 and 12-8. The score was 6-6 after the first inning of the first game. The Yankees and Red Sox combined to hit .387/.453/.661 with 10 home runs in the two games. It was complete madness. Arena baseball.
London Stadium will look different this time around, but not because there was so much offense in 2019. The seating arrangement was restructured, allowing for a larger outfield and less foul territory, and a more traditional looking field. From the Associated Press:
The center field wall will be 392 feet from home plate, seven feet deeper than four years ago, as part of changes that Major League Baseball said came about because of some seat restructuring at London Stadium and not because of the high scores in New York's two wins over Boston.
In other changes, the power alleys are increasing five feet to 387 feet, the dugouts will be repositioned, and the foul territory will be greatly reduced to make the whole thing feel more authentic.
"When you're out at home plate, and you're looking (out at the field), it looks like you're in a totally different ballpark than you were in 2019," MLB's official field consultant Murray Cook told the Associated Press. "... The new dugouts and the new seating configuration kind of pitch out like they would typically down the foul line, whereas in 2019 they were more a straight line behind home plate."
Similar to the 2019 London Series, it will be 330 feet down both lines, with a 16-foot wall in center field that slopes down to eight feet. The 392-foot distance to center field is still one of the shortest in baseball. The lighting was also upgraded to an LED system in 2021.
London Stadium was built for the 2012 Olympics and is designed to minimize wind near the playing surface. It is home of the UEFA Europa Conference League champions West Ham United and seats 62,500 for soccer games. Capacity for the London Series will be a touch higher.
2. Goldschmidt will make make history
When he takes the field Saturday, Cardinals first baseman and reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt will become the first player in major league history to play a regular season game in five different countries. In addition to the United States and Canada as part of the regular MLB schedule, Goldschmidt has also played in several international events:
- March 22-23, 2014: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Los Angeles Dodgers in Sydney, Australia
- April 13-14, 2019: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Cincinnati Reds in Monterrey, Mexico
- June 24-25, 2023: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Chicago Cubs in London
"I'm really excited to get over there," Goldschmidt told the Daily Mail about the London Series back in December. "I got a chance when I was with the Arizona Diamondbacks to play in Australia and it was really cool. It's something that doesn't happen every year. It'll be great. The fans will be really excited and we love it when they're into the game with the energy and adrenaline in the stadium. With us playing 162 games in a season sometimes these games can feel the same, so there'll be that adrenaline for us."
Unless a surprise roster move is made in the next 24 hours or so, only one player who appeared in the 2019 London Series will play in the 2023 London Series: Mike Tauchman. The Cubs outfielder went 0 for 2 in two pinch-hit at-bats for the Yankees in the last time. Tauchman has been a pleasant surprise for the Cubs the last few weeks.
3. The Cardinals lead the season series
The London Series is technically a home series for the Cardinals. They'll bat in the bottom of the inning and thus have a chance to walk it off should the opportunity present itself. The Cubs and Cardinals have played just one series this season so far, with St. Louis taking two of three at Wrigley Field from May 8-10. That series was notable for Willson Contreras' return to Chicago.
"There were a couple of people booing me, and I just love that. When you get booed, that means you're doing something right. The boos were kind of an extra boost I got there," Contreras told MLB.com following his first game at Wrigley Field as a visiting player. "... I love the Cubs and I have no hard feelings toward them. I grew up there, but life put me in a different spot now and we have to move on."
As part of the new, more balanced schedule, division rivals will play each other only 13 times this season rather than the usual 19. That puts a premium on head-to-head games in division races and also gives us fewer opportunity to see rivalry games. Here are the three series the Cubs and Cardinals have remaining this season:
- June 24-25: London Series (2 home games for Cardinals)
- July 20-23: 4 games at Wrigley Field
- July 27-20: 4 games at Busch Stadium
Yep, these two rivals will play eight times in an 11-day span next month. With the caveat that the NL Central is extremely winnable, those Cardinals vs. Cubs series in July may not be especially meaningful with St. Louis mired in last place and.
4. Who's hot, who's not
Baseball is a game of peaks and valleys and, inevitably, some players will head into this weekend's series feeling better at the plate than others. In a week or two, things could be totally different. Such is life in this sport. Here are three Cubs players who have swung the bat well the last two weeks:
Morel doesn't have a clear position and his on-base skills leave something to be desired, but the kid has hit 24 home runs between Triple-A and MLB this year. The power is real. Tauchman spent last year in Korea and has given the Cubs a nice shot in the arm after being called up last month. Happ's average is down a bit, but he gets on base and is rediscovering his power stroke.
On the flip side, Dansby Swanson has been relatively quiet the last two weeks (.250/.308/.313) and Cody Bellinger hasn't done much since returning from his knee injury (.105/.182/.158 in 22 plate appearances). Rookie Matt Mervis is still trying to find his way in the big leagues as well. He's hitting .167/.242/.289 and striking out in roughly a third of his plate appearances in the majors.
Here now are three Cardinals players who head to London having swung the bat well the last two weeks:
The Cardinals may not be good this year, but they at least have several young players cementing themselves as lineup mainstays, including Walker. He has mashed since returning from a brief Triple-A stint spent retooling his swing to elevate the ball more. Walker still hits a few too many ground balls, but he's getting better, and obviously the production has been there.
Those three plus stalwarts Nolan Arenado (.292/.340/.604 the last two weeks) and Goldschmidt (.288/.339/.500 the last two weeks) give St. Louis a strong offensive attack. It would be even better if Nolan Gorman could snap out of his slump. He's hit .075/.159/.150 with a 43.1% strikeout rate the last two weeks. Tommy Edman (.190/.306/.333) has been quiet the last two weeks as well.
With a two-game series, I could cop out and say it'll be a split, but that's the coward's answer. I'll say the Cubs sweep the Cardinals, and the games will not be as high-scoring as the last time MLB visited London. The final scores will be much more normal that what we saw in 2019. I'll say 6-4 and 5-2. It has been foretold.