Tonight, the St. Louis Cardinals will open a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs, a baseball team which plays its home games in the north side of Chicago. Their home stadium is called “Wrigley Field”, and it has been in use for 104 years by the Cubs. Perhaps some day, the Cubs will have enough fan support to justify building a more modern stadium.
The Cubs are managed by Joe Maddon, a former A-ball player from 1976 through 1979 in the minor leagues of the then-California Angels. And although Maddon was born and raised in Pennsylvania, it turns out he grew up a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. Perhaps someday he will get a chance to manage the team of his youth, but in the meantime, he will get the chance to manage against them.
Let’s go around the diamond with the Cubs. At catcher is Willson Contreras, who has shown some offensive promise but has been criticized harshly for his defense. Per Baseball Prospectus writer/Cubs fan Matthew Trueblood, “He’s looked utterly unable to call a game, frame a pitch, manage a pitcher.” Not a great sign. First baseman Anthony Rizzo has been below Replacement Level in 2018, thanks to a meager 57 wRC+ (Rizzo is just 28; he still has time to turn his career around!). Shorstop Addison Russell has struggled as well, and with a 68 wRC+ on the season, looks once again unlikely to put up his first career above-average season at the plate. Second baseman Javier Baez has wildly exceeded expectations at the plate, but has been below-average by Ultimate Zone Rating in the field.
So far in 2018, the starting outfield includes one above-average hitter (Kyle Schwarber), one exactly average hitter (Albert Almora), and one below-average hitter (Jason Heyward). This has been nice for them, but the harsh reality is that Schwarber is wildly exceeding his offensive track record, while Heyward is exceeding his as well.
The Cubs are a scrappy bunch, an intriguing group of players with potential, but if they hope to win some games against a St. Louis Cardinals team currently on pace to win 95 games, they will need impressive performances from their pitchers. Tonight, the Cubs will need lefty-handed starter Jose Quintana, he of a 5.74 ERA on the season, to perform beyond his 2018 performance levels, if they hope to defeat Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas, who has a solid 3.27 ERA on the season. Although Quintana has looked a little better and Mikolas has fared a little worse by fielding-independent pitching, it is Mikolas who holds the edge regardless.
On Saturday afternoon, the Cubs will start Tyler Chatwood while the Cardinals will start Luke Weaver. Chatwood has the edge by ERA; Weaver has the edge by FIP. The same also applies to their career stats. Weaver has been mostly ordinary in 2018, but Tyler Chatwood has the misfortune of a truly egregious walk rate, walking 6.91 batters per nine innings. While the Cardinals have some notorious free-swingers, such as Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong, they also have walk machines such as Matt Carpenter who could have a chance to exploit Chatwood if he continues his erratic conttrol.
On Sunday night, the Cubs will have Jon Lester take the mound while Michael Wacha will pitch for the Cardinals. Wacha is a bit of an enigma, wildly disappointing those who expected him to turn into an elite pitcher but pitching far better than those who label him a disappointment might perceive him. Jon Lester, meanwhile, is notorious for one particular facet of the game in which he struggles–throwing the ball to first base. Many sources have written about this mental block, with Business Insider probably being the funniest. As is the case on Saturday, the Cardinals will have an opportunity to exploit one fairly obvious hole in the opposing pitcher’s game.
The Chicago Cubs have some endearing players, but will they be able to keep up with the professional baseballing machine that is the St. Louis Cardinals? Only time will tell. Here’s video of Albert Pujols hitting three home runs against the Cubs.