Yu Darvish turned in another masterful performance Thursday night as the Cy Young candidate improved to 7-1, with a 1.44 ERA in the Chicago Cubs’ 4-1 victory over the St Louis Cardinals. Ever since then, it’s been nothing but Cardinals in the five game, COVID re-schedule extended series. St. Louis swept Saturday’s doubleheader, winning 4-2 in the first game and 5-1 in the second. This afternoon, Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks faces 22-year-old Cardinals starter Johan Oviedo, as the Cubs try to avoid a 4-1 series loss.
This series was even more critical due to the Cardinals still having nine less games played than the Cubs. Which means they’ll have more opportunities to get wins and either cut away at the division lead or extend a lead of their own. Chicago had an opportunity to separate themselves in the division race with this series being played at Wrigley Field, but the Cardinals have had other plans.
We’ve seen more of the same for the Cubs in this series. Starting pitchers, other than Darvish, have continued to struggle. Jon Lester allowed five earned runs in three and a third innings, Colin Rea allowed four earned runs in a spot start that only lasted two innings and Adbert Alzolay allowed two earned runs in two and two third innings. Granted Rea’s start was a planned bullpen day, these kind of short outings for the starters are putting too much pressure on a bullpen with the collective 9th worst WAR in baseball.
Offensively, the narrative hasn’t changed much either. Ian Happ continues to be the team’s best hitter and continues to hit bombs. Kris Bryant and Javy Baez continue to struggle mightily. Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward continue to hit well, but the slumps of Bryant and Baez seem to be holding this lineup back.
With the expanded playoffs, beating out the Cardinals isn’t necessarily the end all be all. The top two teams in the division will advance to the playoffs this year, as will two wild card teams from each league. This is particularly good news in the NL central, where the third place Milwaukee Brewers are 18-21. At 23-18 entering play Monday, the Cubs sit four games ahead of the Brewers. The Cincinnati Reds are still looming as well, at five games back and 18-23. They didn’t trade Trevor Bauer at the deadline, so they seem to believe they can still make a run.
With 19 games remaining, the Cubs are going to need to need to finish strong to make sure they can punch their ticket to October baseball. After one more game against St. Louis, they’ll host the Reds for three games in Chicago and then head to Milwaukee for three on the road. Next the Cleveland Indians (who blew a 3-1 lead) will come to Chicago for two games and then the Minnesota Twins will follow for three games at Wrigley. The Cubs will then play four in Pittsburgh before wrapping up the season with a three-game series at the Chicago White Sox.
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