No question about it, this is the biggest series of the year for the Cubs. Win at least three of the five games against the Cardinals and they essentially salt away the division title. Drop three or more and the Cards remain right there in the hunt with a chance to jump into first. Both the offense and the pitching will need to be more consistent over the weekend.
Ian Happ is out of the lineup a day after taking a foul ball to the eye, so Kyle Schwarber moves into the leadoff spot. Kris Bryant is batting second and playing third, followed by Anthony Rizzo and Javy Báez. Jason Heyward slides up to the fifth spot in right, Willson Contreras is the DH, and Victor Caratini is catching. Cameron Maybin handles center and Jason Kipnis bats last at second base.
Yu Darvish is in a zone right now and the confidence he gives his team every fifth day is not unlike what we saw from Jake Arrieta in 2015. Darvish last faced the Cards back on August 18, holding them to a single run despite giving up eight hits over six innings. He’s working very deliberately and sticking with the pitches that work on that day, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he attacks this game.
The Cubs are facing Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty for the second time this season, the first of which came back on August 19 in his first outing following their lengthy COVID stoppage. He managed to make it through just nine batters in that one, losing gas a falling apart quickly. His last two outings have been much better, with just one run allowed over 10 innings, though he didn’t go past five innings in either.
Flaherty’s fastball has been sitting around 95 mph, then he’s got a nasty slider that induces lots of ugly swings. The sinker gets a little usage as well and it’s interesting to note that he throws it a good 3 mph slower than his four-seam. He’s also throwing the curve a little more than in the past while essentially ditching the changeup.
That fastball/slider combo is what gets it done, though, so the Cubs need to find mistakes and take advantage. Flaherty is destroying righties so far, holding them to a .347 OPS and .177 wOBA, with lefties all the way up at .588 OPS and .255 wOBA. He’s only given up three extra base hits, a double and two homers, all to left-handed batters.
His brief start at Wrigley is the only time he’s pitched away from St. Louis this season, so perhaps those road woes will strike again.
First pitch is at 7:15pm CT on Marquee Sports Network and 670 The Score.
Here's how we'll open the homestand vs. St. Louis. pic.twitter.com/h6bTpHFtt5
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 4, 2020