Chicago Cubs: Game 1 X-Factors for NLDS vs Cardinals


After 2,363 regular season match-ups, the Chicago Cubs prepare to meet the St. Louis Cardinals in the postseason for the first time with Game 1 of the NLDS going Friday night.

After the Cubs resounding victory over the 98-win Pittsburgh Pirates in a hostile PNC Park Wednesday night, the Cubs and their fans celebrated while simultaneously looking ahead to the only team in baseball with more wins that the Pirates.

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While many questions for Game 1 exist, such as will team MVP Yadier Molina be behind the plate for the Redbirds, coaches, players and fans begin dissecting the rosters for each team in search of a potential X-factor in game 1 and the rest of the series.

With both teams having impact players at nearly every position, look for two lesser talked about players that could be difference makers as each team looks to stake themselves to a 1-0 series lead in the best-of-five affair.

Cardinals: Jason Heyward

While Heyward wouldn’t necessarily be an “under-the-radar” selection by the classic definition of the phrase, he is not often the most talked about name on the Cardinals roster despite owning two Gold Gloves (2012, 2014) and being named the Wilson MLB Defensive Player of the Year last season.

The Cardinals acquired Heyward in the offseason for pitcher Shelby Miller and from literally day one, he has been a thorn in the side of the Cubs. In his first game in a Cardinals uniform, against Jon Lester no less, he went 3-for-5 with two doubles and a stolen base.

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This trend continued as evidenced by going 23-for-71 (.324) against the Cubs as a team this season. Most casual fans would look at the left-handed hitting Heyward against the left-handed throwing Jon Lester, who he will be facing in game one, as a pitcher’s advantage.

This has hardly been the case for J-Hey as he’s affectionately known around baseball. The Cardinals outfielder is 10-for-24 (.417 average) in his career against the Cubs’ Lester, with four doubles and a home run, making him a very dangerous hitter for Lester to face.

He has also been much stronger in the second half of the season, hitting .318 compared to .273 over the first half, peaking in time for the postseason.

His success against lefties doesn’t end at just Lester however.

He is hitting .329 at home versus lefties this season, slightly above his .307 mark at Busch Stadium overall. He also can swipe a base as evidenced by his 23 stolen bases in 26 attempts this season, even managing to steal 8-of-9 against left-handers.

Couple this with the fact that Jon Lester allowed the most steals in baseball this season with 44 and you have a potential menace for the Cubs to deal with. This is all in addition to his elite defensive efforts in the field, making Heyward an extremely dangerous player Chicago will need to contain if they have any hope of shaking hands on the field tonight after the last out is recorded.

Cubs: Chris Coghlan

You may be wondering how a player that didn’t start, let alone appear, in the Wild Card victory could be a key to the Cubs success on Friday night. If you’re a believer in statistical trends, it becomes fairly evident.

It seems every split you can find on Chris Coghlan points to him not just starting this contest, but being the key player to the Cubbies success on Friday night. With manager Joe Maddon being a numbers guy, he will give Coghlan every opportunity to succeed.

The first thing any manager or fan will notice is his career success against Cardinals game one starter John Lackey. In 17 at-bats, Coghlan has eight hits against the right-handed Lackey, good for an amazing .471 average.

Game one of this best of five is sure to be a classic. A rivalry that has brewed for over 2000 games head-to-head finally reaches the postseason.

Then there is a long list of other numbers that all point to a huge potential impact for Coghlan, expected to be sharing left-field, trading every half-inning with the aforementioned Heyward. Coghlan, the NL 2009 Rookie of the Year, hit .287 this season away from Wrigley (compared to just .212 at the Friendly Confines) as well experiencing a higher OBP (.373 vs .308) and slugging percentage (.525 vs .369) away from home.

Of all his road games, Coghlan fared best at Busch Stadium this season hitting an astounding .462 in St Louis and .361 against the Cardinals regardless of venue. A plethora of numbers continues to stand out in this particular matchup that include his hitting .312 this season on the road versus right-handed pitching, and a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts in road contests.

In addition to his hitting prowess, he is remembered for a spectacular catch on September 11th of this year at Busch Stadium when he went crashing into the first row of the right-field seats covering over 80 ft. to record the out.

With all the Cubs big names that sell a lot of jerseys and get a ton of the spotlight, it’s Coghlan that is set up to be the biggest problem in the lineup for the Cardinals to overcome on Friday night.

Game one of this best of five is sure to be a classic. A rivalry that has brewed for over 2000 games head-to-head finally reaches the postseason. Two friends and ex-teammates in Lester and John Lackey square off the mound.

Lineup card filled with star player names will hang in each dugout. It could be anyone that steps up to be the hero on Friday night, but the look to right field for two players that could make the biggest impact in the first game of what is sure to be an epic series.

Next: Cubs rivalry with Cardinals takes next step