Cubs-Cardinals weekend preview

Game 1 (Friday, 1:20 p.m.): Lance Lynn (12-4, 3.10) v. Travis Wood (4-5, 4.33)

Game 2 (Saturday, 12:05 p.m.): Joe Kelly (1-3, 2.78) v. Jeff Samardzija (7-8, 4.25)

Game 3 (Sunday, 1:05 p.m.): Adam Wainwright (8-10, 4.31) v. Paul Maholm (9-6, 3.88)

Season series: Cardinals lead 7-4, outscoring the Cubs 63 to 33 in the process.

Overall: It’s odd to have two Cub-Cardinal weekend series in a row with no Sunday night game. But such is life when the Cubs aren’t holding up their end of the competitive bargain.

The Cubs recent string of good play at home has vaulted them above .500 at Wrigley (24-21). But should they repeat the 23-1 shellacking they took last weekend in St. Louis they’ll find themselves right back at .500.

It’s interesting that the Cardinals have outscored the Cubs by 30 this year, yet have “only” won 7 of the 11 games. With a run differential like that you’d figure they’d have won nearly all the games. But the 12-0 and 7-0 blowouts last weekend amount to a good chunk of that differential.

The Cardinals offense has been their strength this year, as they lead the majors in  team OBP (.342) and are second in BA (.274). The strength of their pitching staff has been the All-Star and former Ole Miss Rebel Lynn, who has rebounded from a rough stretch. From the middle to end of June he had three starts in which he gave up 5, 6, and 6 runs, and didn’t go more than 5 innings in any of those games.

Wood needs to rebound. Image courtesy zimbio.com.

But unfortunately for the Cubs he has bounced back nicely. In his past three games he has gone 19 innings giving up only one run (including 6 shutout innings against the Cubs last Sunday). In fact this season Lynn is 3-0 with a 0.94 ERA against the Cubs. He’ll be opposed by Wood, who is taking Matt Garza‘s spot in the rotation. Wood has had two bad outings in a row, and this will be a big start to see if he can stabilize and continue what otherwise has been a fine first year in Chicago.

Samardzija has been better at home this season (3-3, 3.68 ERA, 3.29 K/BB as opposed to 4-5, 4.71, 2.42 K/BB on the road), so it’ll be nice to see him back at Wrigley. He’ll be opposed by Kelly, who has been very effective in the first eight starts of his career. Of course the Cardinals have a call-up contributing immediately, right? No matter how much their system gets slammed they always pull productive players out of thin air. It’s infuriating.

Anthony Rizzo is my player to watch for the Cubs (but isn’t he always?). This will be the second team he’s seen for the second time (the Mets were the first), and he did okay in St. Louis last weekend, going 3-12 with a walk. He’d been in a power slump since the break, but broke out of that with a home run on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. I’ll be interested in this series, and the rest of the year, to see how he fares as teams see him more and more. Can he stay one step ahead of the league, so that he adjusts to it before it adjusts to him?

For the Cardinals my player to watch is Allen CraigMatt HollidayYadier Molina, and Carlos Beltran are big names, and so is David Freese after last October. All are having good seasons, but so is the semi-unheralded Craig. Mike Matheny has had trouble getting him in the lineup, because he’s basically a corner outfield/first base guy, and thus a challenge is presented with Holliday, Beltran and Lance Berkman on the roster.

But when Craig has gotten in games he has hit, and hit well (.299/.365/.570). He’s also hit it hard with 14 HR’s and 18 2B’s in 249 plate appearances. His .936 OPS is tied with Holliday for the team lead. Matheny will need to channel some of that maddening Tony La Russa creativity to get Craig more playing time.

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