Cubs vs. Cardinals: Eight things to know as NL Central rivals meet for massive four-game series at Wrigley
The NL Central rivals play each other seven more times this season, starting on Thursday at Wrigley Field
First place will be on the line this weekend in Wrigley Field, though a third party could slide right in (more on that in a second). It's Cardinals at Cubs in Chicago with both chasing a playoff berth. How fun is that? Let's check out all the implications with eight things to know.
1. St. Louis' magic number is 8
From the Cardinals' perspective: Any win knocks two off of that, at least in terms of the Cubs (we'll get to the Brewers). Let's say the Cardinals take three of four. That gets the magic number down to two and they then likely wouldn't even have to worry about next weekend. If the Cardinals somehow find a way to sweep, they'll have eliminated the Cubs from divisional contention and surely put a major dent in the Brewers' chances . Even a split for the Cardinals is a win, really. The magic number would be four with seven games to play.
From the Cubs' perspective: They don't have to scoreboard watch. The task is simple: Win. If the Cubs take three of four and then take care of business in a three-game series against a Pirates team that appears to have quit on this season, they can then win next weekend head to head and take the division. If the Cubs somehow manage a sweep, they'll actually have a one-game lead just four games after trailing by three. As noted, though, now that they are three out, a split doesn't help them; it actively hurts them.
2. Watch the Brewers (and the Nationals)
The Brewers are three out in the division and tied with the Cubs. If they keep beating up onthe way they have while this series is, say, a split, they are in great shape, especially with the Cubs visiting the Cardinals next weekend.
Further, the Nationals are involved in this equation as they hold the top wild card spot but are only two games from being on the outside looking in. The Nats have lost 10 of their last 16 games, though they have the Marlins this weekend.
3. Home has been huge in this series
The Cubs have won all six games at Wrigley this year while the Cardinals have won five of six in Busch. That's not a predictive stat, but it's interesting and I think you have to favor the home teams these next two weekends.
4. It could go down to the wire next weekend ...
If the Cardinals or Cubs (or Brewers) don't wrap this thing up before next weekend, none of the teams will be able to set their rotations so that they'll have a starter of choice ready for a possible Wild Card Game. I suppose they could shuffle rotations, but with so few remaining days off remaining, that's tough to do without throwing a sixth man into the rotation or having a (presumably back-end) starter go on short rest. Whoever wins the division, if it happens early, it actually in a weird way helps whoever possibly ends up as a wild card. That's more something to watch for next weekend, but a potential Cardinals sweep takes focus off next weekend, so this is something to think about now.
Speaking of which ...
5. Aces match up on Thursday
Just looking at the names Jack Flaherty and Kyle Hendricks and their numbers, it doesn't scream blockbuster pitching matchup like Max Scherzer vs. Jacob deGrom. It could well be just as good of a duel, though.
Flaherty's last 13 starts: 1.07 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 105 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings. He's been a top-flight ace for a bit more than a third of the season.
Hendricks at home this season has a 1.75 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 76 strikeouts in 87 1/3 innings. Opposing hitters have slashed .194/.233/.291 against him in the Friendly Confines this year. He's twice beaten the Cardinals with relative ease in Chicago this year, including an 81-pitch masterpiece in a shutout.
6. Castellanos' doubles, Schwarber's tear
No player has hit 60 doubles in a season since 1936 (Nicholas Castellanos has 56 right now. It's probably not likely, given that the Cardinals pitch well, but it's possible Castellanos gets to 60 this weekend and then focus shifts to the all-time record (67).) and Cubs right fielder
Also, Kyle Schwarber is on an extended stretch of hitting really well, notably for power. Starting with a game in Milwaukee on July 25 in which he went deep twice, Schwarber has hit .278/.368/.656 with 15 homers and 44 RBI in 174 plate appearances.
7. Fowler is back home
The first two years of the Cubs longest-ever playoff streak came with Dexter Fowler being the very successful ("you go, we go") leadoff man. We all remember him leading off Game 7 of the World Series with a solo shot off Indians ace Corey Kluber. He had a rough first two seasons with the Cardinals, but he's now back in the leadoff spot and doing really well in it. Since he took over the leadoff spot on a full-time basis on Aug. 6, Fowler has a .384 on-base percentage.
8. Key injuries on one side
The Cubs are without two of what's been their core four here in this playoff streak in Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez. Schwarber has been picking up the power slack at the plate and rookie Nico Hoerner has been very good at shortstop since being called up just a few series ago. But not having two of your most important players can catch up quickly. The Cubs have also been without Craig Kimbrel, but he could come back soon and the bullpen of late hasn't been much of an issue. It's mostly about Rizzo and Baez.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are pretty healthy overall.
This is one of the few races left that is fun. Enjoy it!
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