Series Preview – Cards vs Cubs
Motivated by a bulletin-board ready quote, St Louis steamrolled through Cincinnati and swept the Reds. They hope to carry that momentum home for their next series with the Cubs.
St Louis: 64-49, first place NL Central, 1 game ahead of Cincinnati. I’m not sure if Brandon Phillips’ comments woke the team up or not. St Louis is hot; not only are they back in first place, they are riding a three-game winning streak, have won 5 of their last 6, and 9 of their last 12 overall.
Chicago: 48-67, fifth place NL Central, 17 games behind. The Cubs took two of three from St Louis in July, then turned around and lost 11 of their next 13 games. They’ve played the Giants tough this week, but still lost three of four to the NL Wild Card leaders (all three losses in San Francisco’s last at bat).
Probable Pitching Matchups
Friday 13 August: Thomas Diamond (0-2, 4.67 xFIP) vs Jake Westbrook (no record, 1.53 xFIP). Diamond was the #10 overall pick in the 2004 amateur draft by the Texas Rangers. He has spent most of his time since then at AA in the Texas farm system. Diamond was claimed off waivers by the Cubs near the end of last season. He was pretty good this season at AAA Iowa, posting a 3.16 ERA and striking out 104 in 108.2 innings. He’s continued the strikeout trend, fanning 11 in 9 major league innings.
Diamond features a fastball, slider, curveball, and change. According to his Fangraphs page, he mostly uses his fastball (67%, 89 MPH) and changeup (20%, 80 MPH). The changeup is his best pitch, probably set up by his fastball.
Westbrook’s ridiculous xFIP is only for his time with the Cardinals. He has never faced the Cubs, which shocks me given all the years he pitched in Cleveland. He does have a history with some of the Cub bats; 3 current Cubs have 21 total plate appearances against him. Sixteen of those belong to Alfonso Soriano, and he’s not enjoyed the experience, posting a .133/.188/.133 line against the right hander.
Saturday 14 August: Carlos Zambrano (3-6, 4.53 xFIP) vs Kyle Lohse (1-4, 5.13 xFIP). If Reggie Jackson was ‘the straw that stirs the drink‘, then Carlos Zambrano is ‘the reason for the drink in the first place’. Zambrano started the year in the rotation, was demoted to the bullpen, reinstated as a starter, banned from the clubhouse after an anger-fueled mid-first inning tirade, returned briefly to the bullpen, and is now back in the rotation. No wonder Lou Piniella never shaves anymore. Tuesday was Zambrano’s first start since June 25. He survived five innings, allowed only two earned runs despite walking 7, and did not factor in the decision.
There was a time when Zambrano owned the Cardinals. For almost three full years (12 August 05 to 9 Aug 08) the Cubs beat St Louis every time Zambrano took the mound. Last year he seemed to return to that form; the Cubs won all three games he started against St Louis (Zambrano was credited with the win in only one of those games). This year he has not started a game versus the Cardinals. Both his 2010 appearances have been in relief, once in a blow out loss, and once in a blow out win.
Zambrano throws a fastball, cutter, and split-finger. He is also known to throw a curveball, but rarely. He can still bring the fastball (averages 91 MPH). Only his cutter is a plus pitch anymore. Lots of Cardinals have lots of PA’s against Zambrano, and as a team (in 347 PA) they are hitting .265/.341/.444 off him. Albert Pujols has about 20% of those plate appearances, posting a .272/.347/.574 line in 72 PA.
It is difficult to evaluate Kyle Lohse since his last appearance was 22 May 10. He did throw seven effective innings Tuesday night in AAA, but that gets thrown out the window at the major league level. Lohse better be right, because his career numbers against Chicago are not encouraging (176 PA; .366/.406/.610 allowed). Lohse is 1-3 career vs the Small Bears.
Sunday 15 August: Ryan Dempster (10-8, 4.02 xFIP) vs Chris Carpenter (13-3, 3.79 xFIP). This will be a rematch of the 25 July game in Chicago. Neither hurler factored in the decision, and both had almost the same line (7 IP, 9 H, 3R, 3 ER, 4 K) – the difference being Dempster walked 3 more hitters and gave up a HR (to Pujols). More info on Dempster and Carpenter can be found in this preview.
St Louis has won Carpenter’s last 5 starts in St Louis against the Cubs, dating back to 2005. Ryan Dempster has lost his last 4 starts in St Louis; in fact, his team has only won twice along the Mississippi River when he starts (in 11 tries), and it’s been nine years since the last win.
St Louis is hot, and the team left Cincinnati with a chip on its shoulder. The offense has woken up since the trade deadline, while the pitching remains strong. Chicago is really struggling right now, but playing their arch-rivals might help them snap out of the funk. Based solely on the pitching matchups, St Louis should win Friday and Sunday, and Saturday’s game could be a Wild West-style shootout.
Let’s go with Cardinals win 2 of 3 this weekend. Cincinnati hosts Florida, so this is an opportunity to widen the division lead.