Photo is credited to Getty Images.
On Monday, the Cardinals and Cubs will kick off a three-game series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, the clubs’ second-to-last meeting of the 2016 regular season.
As things sit now, the Cubs (91-51) own a sixteen-game lead in the National League Central division and have a magic number of five, meaning that — if the Cubs were to take the first two games of the three-game series — the Baby Bears could, with a win in the series finale on Wednesday, celebrate a National League Central crown at Busch Stadium, home of the Cardinals, recipients of the division title every season since 2013.
In the series opener, Mike Leake will take the ball for the Cardinals. Leake made his first start on Wednesday, September 7, since contacting shingles in late August. In the start, Leake allowed three earned runs on nine hits through 4.1 innings, raising his earned run average on the season to 4.61 in 156.1 innings of work. It’s important for the Cardinals to receive a strong start from Leake, being that he doesn’t have many more regular-season opportunities to prove that he is worthy of a spot in the Cardinals’ starting rotation for a potential postseason run.
Leake’s opponent will be Kyle Hendricks, a legitimate contender for the National League Cy Young Award. Hendricks is 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA over his last fifteen games (fourteen starts.) Although he shares a starting rotation with Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, Hendricks leads the Cubs’ pitching staff in two major categories, including ERA (2.07) and WHIP (0.99.)
The middle game of the series will feature Jaime Garcia for the Cardinals. Garcia has been bombed for twelve earned runs over his previous 16.2 innings, during which the lefty has punched out seventeen batters. Garcia has allowed ten home runs over his last seven starts and will be facing a long-ball-packed lineup in the Cubs, who currently have seven players with double-digit total of home runs.
Jason Hammel will toe the rubber for the Cubs. Hammel has arguably been Chicago’s most inconsistent starting pitcher this season, and that should speak wonders of the Cubs’ pitching staff, given Hammel’s ERA of 3.50 and WHIP of 1.19 over 27 starts this season. Hammel has been a little sketchy as of late — twelve earned runs over his last three starts — but still possesses key statistics that rank toward the top of the league leaderboards.
The series finale on Wednesday afternoon projects to feature the best starting-pitching matchup of the series, as Carlos Martinez will take the mound for the Cardinals. Martinez has been throwing the ball very effectively and efficiently over his most recent starts, as he has turned in six consecutive quality starts.
Squaring off against Martinez will be Jon Lester, who has fared even better than Martinez has over the last month. Lester is 5-0 with a 1.32 ERA over his last seven starts, during which he managed a miniscule WHIP of 0.86 and a grand strikeout-to-walk ratio of 46:9.