A Season Ender?

There's a nonzero chance that either the Cardinals or the Cubs will be playing out the string after this series.

A little over a month ago, we looked at the various possibilities that could happen in a Cubs series that looked to be crucial. While that didn’t pan out to be quite as important as we expected, it’s also true that the Cardinals really haven’t recovered from that sweep. With the Cubs coming to town, this series looks much different but also carries plenty of import for both teams. So let’s see what could happen.

  • The Cardinals could sweep the series. Assuming Milwaukee handles the Royals (we’ll look at schedules in a bit) the Cards would be eight games out of first, four games ahead of the Cubs and possibly in second depending on what the Reds do. If the Cubs lost all four, their selloff would begin in earnest when they left town, while the Cardinals might actually be emboldened a little bit to add a piece or two. Obviously, this is the ideal situation and it’s a stretch to think it’ll happen.

  • The Cardinals could win three of four. This would at least have the advantage of the Cardinals finishing this series and leaving town with a team over .500. The Cubs would be two games behind and three games under .500, so it would seem they’d probably start talking more about moving players out. A series win might not be enough to get the Cardinal front office to start being more aggressive, however.

  • The two teams split the series. Really, in 2021, with these two teams, that’s really what you probably expect, right? They both leave town a game under .500, probably both 10 games out. A blah result for a couple of blah teams. The Cardinals make more noises about the return of Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty and don’t do anything. The Cubs probably still move Craig Kimbrel and Kris Bryant, but they may hold on to Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez to keep fans around while trying to sign them to extensions.

  • The Cubs could win three of four. The Cubs have had the Cardinals number this year and this wouldn’t be a huge shock. It would, however, be a tough thing for St. Louis to overcome. The inverse of above, the Cubs would leave over .500 and perhaps putting pause on some deals while the Cardinals would be three games under .500 and double digits behind Milwaukee, keeping them from adding anything significant.

  • The Cubs could sweep. This doesn’t seem likely, given how they have played, but it’d finish off the Cardinals season, I believe. They’d be at least 10 games back, possibly up to 12, and five games under .500. I know John Mozeliak said he didn’t think they’d be sellers at the deadline and that’s probably fair when you are looking at the future, but it’s also possible that might shake loose someone like Kwang Hyun Kim or Andrew Miller (if there was a market for him), people that aren’t necessarily going to be around in 2022.

There’s still roughly 40% of the season to go after this series, so to say that what happens here will be vital is possibly overstating it. After all, the Cards got swept last time, then turned around and swept the Marlins, getting right back where they had been. That said, losing this series puts them in a hole that will be tough to recover from, even with many games against Milwaukee. I recommend that they don’t lose it.

The Last Time We Met….

The Cards saw the Cubs right before the All-Star Break, so this isn’t probably a section you need to refresh your memory. In the first game, the Cubs scored three in the bottom of the first off of Wade LeBlanc, which was really all Kyle Hendricks needed. St. Louis cut it to 3-2 in the third on RBI singles by Tyler O’Neill and Yadier Molina, but the bullpen couldn’t hold it, allowing seven runs over five innings, mainly in the seventh off of Genesis Cabrera and Junior Fernandez.

The next night saw the Redbirds end their losing streak against the baby bears as Kwang Hyun Kim led the way with six scoreless innings. St. Louis took advantage of some Zach Davies wildness (two walks before a Matt Carpenter single) to get their first run, then blew the game open in the fifth with three home runs.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals, who were sending Adam Wainwright to the hill, got rained out the last game before the break, stalling some momentum.

Season series: 2-6

The Opponent

The Cubs are….well, basically the same as they were when these two teams last got together. I mean, there’s only been the All-Star Break and one series since then. They did trade Joc Pederson to the Braves, which is good news for the Cardinals as Pederson has hit .308 with a 1.136 OPS on the back of three home runs in seven games. Not seeing him this series is a very good thing.

Chicago was out in Arizona over the weekend, winning the first one fairly comfortably, then having to rally in the ninth inning to win the second before dropping the third. Playing competitive baseball with Arizona isn’t necessarily all that inspiring, but the Cardinals have done that as well.

The Mound Men

Monday: Alec Mills (4-2, 1 SV, 4.84 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 4.50 xERA) vs. Jake Woodford (1-1, 4.62 ERA, 6.57 FIP, 5.43 xERA)

Tuesday: Trevor Williams (3-2, 5.51 ERA, 4.90 FIP, 4.89 xERA) vs. (likely) Johan Oviedo (0-5, 5.09 ERA, 5.30 FIP, 6.19 xERA)

Wednesday: Kyle Hendricks (12-4, 3.65 ERA, 4.76 FIP, 4.76 xERA) vs. Adam Wainwright (7-6, 3.71 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 4.20 xERA)

Thursday: Adbert Alzolay (4-9, 4.59 ERA, 5.02 FIP, 4.79 xERA) vs. Kwang Hyun Kim (5-5, 2.87 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 3.78 xERA)

xERA courtesy of FanGraphs

For as much as the two teams have seen each other this year, Mills hasn’t faced the Cardinals in 2021. He only saw them once last year as well and allowed six runs in 3.2 innings. His last time out was against the Phillies over 10 days ago, when he gave up three runs in 5.2 innings in a game the Cubs won 8-3.

Trevor Williams was scheduled to see the Cardinals right before the break in the rainout game, which was a disappointment. From the last writeup:

St. Louis saw him last in September 2020, when he was with Pittsburgh. He was the starter in the first game of a doubleheader and the Cards tagged him for six runs (five earned) in 4.1 innings. He’s made 16 appearances, 13 of which were starts, in his career against the Redbirds and has a 5.64 ERA to show for it.

Williams hasn’t pitched in the second half either, which means his relief outing on July 6 where he allowed seven runs is the only official outing he’s had since the end of May. (Also, the Cardinals haven’t announced Oviedo and Mike Shildt said they could be “creative”, but the Cardinals being creative was sending Jake Woodford down to be stretched out. It’ll be Oviedo for most of the innings—I guess it’s possible someone could be an opener, but I don’t see that it would help much.)

Eight games and the Cards haven’t seen Mills or Williams, but dadgum they aren’t allowed to miss Kyle Hendricks. This will be the fourth time Hendricks has faced the Cardinals, as Chicago smartly makes sure he’s available anytime they face the team in red. For the year, he’s 3-0 with a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings. He’s only allowed more than two runs once in his last seven starts, which included six innings of one-run ball against the Diamondbacks on Friday. Normally you’d just write off this game, but Adam Wainwright at home on the other side would at least seem to give the club a sporting chance.

St. Louis saw Alzolay back in May, when he went seven innings and allowed just two runs. Alzolay dealt with some injuries this year and has a 5.84 ERA since returning from the injured list. That said, he gave up two runs in five innings against the Diamondbacks on Saturday, his best start in a while.

The Hot Seat

I don’t think it’s a hot seat in the way that we think about it, but you wonder if the club might be thinking about shifting Dylan Carlson out of the leadoff spot. In his last 30 games, all that have been in that leadoff spot (and he’s started every single one of them), he’s had a .233/.321/.336 line with 34 strikeouts in 131 plate appearances. Given how well Harrison Bader is going down in the lineup, it wouldn’t hurt to relieve that burden from Carlson for a while.

Dispatches From The Front

Evan Altman of Cubs Insider (and on Twitter @DEvanAltman) was kind enough to again lend some thoughts about where the Cubs are now and what it’s like to be a fan with so much impending change circling about.

—————-

The Cubs are in a weird place right now, still clinging to the last vestiges of a core that brought a World Series to Chicago for the first time in...well, I'm sure Cardinals fans can remind me how long it took. In any case, Jed Hoyer has to walk a fine line between opening a new competitive window and trying to find fair value for players who've meant so much to the team and its fans. It's a difficult spot and I don't envy his task, but I'm also left wondering how an organization with the supposed wherewithal of a major market can continue playing the small budget card. We've seen from the Red Sox in particular that it's possible to execute quick turnarounds in competitiveness, but Boston's owners have also shown a willingness to spend big in the wake of disappointing campaigns. Tearing the roster down isn't something Hoyer should have to do, but it appears as though that's out of his control. And if it does come to that, it'll be clear that the process should have started 2-3 years ago. This is a tough spot from which extrication may be neither simple nor fast, though I suppose that's part and parcel with being a Cubs fan.

Scoreboard Watching

As noted above, the Brewers have two games with the Royals sandwiched between two off days. So the Cardinals don’t get any help from the schedule, at least not apparently.

The Reds, who start this series only two games ahead of the Cardinals in second place due to being swept by the Brewers this weekend, have a three game set in Cincinnati with the New York Mets, then have an off day before hosting the Cards this weekend. Cincy is also having Star Wars Night on Tuesday, which has no relevance but did you really think I wouldn’t mention it?

Assorted Crudités

Paul DeJong is hitting .378 in July after a 1-3 day on Sunday with his third home run in that span. It’s hard to know how much of that will continue on and I do think that, in some regard, the occasional rest has helped him, but it feels like he should be shifted up in the lineup until the hotness wears off. Hitting behind Yadier Molina and Tommy Edman (or Matt Carpenter) doesn’t help the offense as a whole.

Genesis Cabrera continues to worry me. He had a scoreless inning on Sunday, meaning that that was three scoreless outings in a row. However, he’s still had more than a walk an inning in July and, if you go back to the beginning of June, it’s 10 in 16.1 innings, with an ERA over 6 in that span. I trust Giovanny Gallegos, for the most part. I trust Alex Reyes to scare me but get the job done. I’m not sure who else I really consistently trust in the bullpen.

Whether it’s very good scheduling or a bit of a fluke, Adam Wainwright has 11 starts at home versus just seven on the road this season. His ERA at home is 2.84 and he allows a .206 batting average at Busch, compared to 5.35 and .268 on the road. Some of that ERA is skewed by giving up six runs in four innings in San Diego, as he’s had some really good starts away from home as well. Wherever he’s pitching, he’s probably one of the two guys (KK is coming strong to be in that group with him) you feel all right about actually starting. Nothing against Wade LeBlanc, who has done a fine job in St. Louis.

Random Links

I didn’t listen to any podcasts over the weekend, so we’re kinda stuck there. I did finish up Star Wars: Rebels, which holds together well. I’d say it’s probably my third or fourth time to go all the way through the series. I’ve also enjoyed The Bad Batch and the (slight spoiler) crossing of those two over the last couple of episodes has been excellent. I don’t know that it’ll pop back up on the series, but I really liked seeing that character again.

Speaking of Rebels, there’s a book called A New Dawn that was one of the first ones that came out in the new Disney canon. It told the story of how Kanan and Hera first crossed paths. I need to reread it—it’s almost seven years old now—but I remember it being very enjoyable. I would like to see them write other books about how the rest of the Spectres came to be. How did Sabine or Zeb meet up with this crew? Did they have others that they lost? It feels like that’s an area that could be explored.

Meet Me at Musial had that fount of knowledge Kyle Reis on talking about the minors and the draft. I imagine you already know that and hopefully you’ve listened, but if not, here’s the link. You can also find the newest Gateway to Baseball Heaven right here.