In the midst of their hottest streak this season, St Louis charges into Chicago to battle the Cubs.
St Louis: 54-42, First Place NL Central, 1.5 games ahead of Cincinnati. The Cardinals had their season best 8-game winning streak snapped in extra innings on Thursday by Philadelphia. St Louis took 2 of 3 from the Cubs in Chicago back in May.
Chicago: 43-53, Third place NL Central, 11 games back. They have split their last 10 games (5-5). Since last meeting the Cardinals, Aramis Ramirez found his stroke, Carlos Zambrano melted down (again) and was held accountable for once, and Lou Piniella announced his retirement at the end of the season.
23 July: Jeff Suppan (0-3, 5.45 xFIP) vs Randy Wells (4-7, 3.72 xFIP). These two have never faced each other. Suppan pitched very well in his last outing against Los Angeles and threw six full innings for the first time this season. He’s already pitched at Wrigley this season, a game Milwaukee eventually won. Suppan is 4-4 career in Chicago, with his last win coming in 2008. Jeff has a lot of history against the guys in Chicago’s line-up; of the players who have faced Suppan 20 or more times (Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Theriot, Alfonso Soriano, Ramirez, Derrek Lee), only Theriot hasn’t homered, and only Soriano and Ramirez are hitting under .300. If the wind is blowing out, look out. Lee has absolutely killed Suppan in his career (6 HR; .429/.529/.875 in 68 plate appearances).
Wells has only faced the Cardinals three times, all at Wrigley, and his last start is one he likely wants to forget. Wells features a fastball about half the time, and mixes a slider or changeup in the other half. His slider is his best pitch, and one of the better sliders in the league. Given the three appearances, Cardinal hitting statistics against him are the epitome of small sample size; no one has more than seven plate appearances. They do lead to some interesting data, though – Wells has never retired Matt Holliday (1 for 1) or Colby Rasmus (2 for 2 with 2 walks). Only Yadier Molina has an extra base hit off him, and Randy Winn has never reached base (0 for 3).
24 July: Blake Hawksworth (4-5, 4.49 xFIP) vs Tom Gorzelanny (5-5, 4.03 xFIP). No one foresaw this as a mid-July matchup back in April, but here we are. Hawksworth will make his seventh career start and none of the previous six were against Chicago. He’s thrown 3 2/3 innings total against the Small Bears in his career, most recently on 29 May in Adam Ottavino’s first career start. Blake throws his fastball about 60% off the time, mixing in a changeup, curveball, and cutter for the rest. According to Fangraphs his cutter is his best pitch, but he only throws it 5% of the time. One wonders if some cutters were mis-identified as fastballs by Pitch f/x. No Cub has faced him more than twice. Hawksworth benefited from St Louis’ power surge on Monday night as he didn’t pitch well but came away with the win. That said, he has pitched better his last four games (ERA under 4.00), but his BABIP has been high (.333), so perhaps he is pitching even better than that.
Gorzelanny will make his first career start as a Cub against the Cardinals. He did make six starts opposing the St Louis Nine while a Pirate, the last time in June 2008, which also was the last time he pitched to the Redbirds. Pittsburgh was 2-4 in those six games (Gorzelanny went 1-3). He has pitched pretty well in those appearances; 16 ER in 37 2/3 innings (3.82 ERA). Fastball-slider-changeup are his weapons of choice, with the fastball and changeup being his best pitches.
Only Aaron Miles and Albert Pujols have more than 15 plate appearances against Gorzelanny. Miles is slashing a robust .467/.529/.533, so expect to see him in the lineup on Saturday. AP has a .979 career OPS against Gorzelanny.
25 July: Chris Carpenter (11-3, 3.73 xFIP) vs Ryan Dempster (8-7, xFIP 3.86). ESPN’s Sunday Night game promises to be a good one. Dempster has pitched better this season than his record indicates, and Carpenter has been lights out (16 IP, 10 K, 1.13 ERA, 2-0) in both starts since the All-Star break. Carpenter has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since 2004, and his record in Chicago is no exception (7-2, 3.66 ERA career). Chris has already beaten the Cubs at Wrigley this season. Oddly only a trio of current Cubs has more than 20 plate appearances against him (Lee, Ramirez, and Soriano). Soriano leads the way (.333/.351/.528) with 2 HR. Lee and Ramirez have also homered off him in their careers.
Dempster faced the Cardinals on 30 May and got smacked around, surrendering 6 in 6 2/3 innings pitched of a game the Cubs eventually lost 9-1. He’s made three other starts versus St Louis at Wrigley and had not lost before this year. Dempster throws a fastball and slider, with the occasional split finger as well for flavor. His slider is also excellent, though it is not quite as good as Wells.
Expect AP to chomp at the bit for this game to start. Pujols has tortured Dempster during his career (4 HR; .310/.412/.643). Expect Randy Winn to have something else to do while Ryan’s on the mound (2-22, 3 walks career). Skip Schumaker (.400 average) and Holliday (1.000 OPS) have enjoyed success as well.
Prognosis. No matter where these teams sit in the standings, this series is taut and well played. The Cardinals are hot; the Cubs are not, but it will not matter come first pitch Friday. Based on the matchups, I would expect Chicago to win Friday, St Louis Sunday, and Saturday’s game to be a toss-up.