Chicago Cubs: Preview of Cubs/Cardinals series with ESPN’s Aaron Boone

Sep 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams (32) dives to put out Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) during the third inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams (32) dives to put out Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) during the third inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

I had the chance to discuss a preview of the weekend series that started yesterday between the Chicago Cubs and Cardinals with ESPN baseball analyst and Color Commentator Aaron Boone. We talked before yesterday’s game, where the Cubs won 5-0. Discussions included the Jake Arrieta and  Mike Leake match up in game one, where Arrieta came out on top, The game two match up on the mound, and much more.

Quinn Allen: So Jake Arrieta had some trouble with fastball command in his last start against the Brewers, but he’s thrived at home this season posting a 2.82 ERA. How do you think he will manage the Cardinals lineup today?

Aaron Boone: Well I mean it comes down to that fastball command. I think on balance he’s had a very good year, again, coming off the Cy Young award, and one thing he’s shown this year is that he’s very hard to hit. You know both lefties and righties are barely hitting over .180 against him, but the command issue at times, especially in the second half of the season, you know is probably what is going to keep him from being in that my young conversation so, i think that’s something to watch in his last two starts before the postseason is can he iron out some things that I think he’s aware of or that he’s working on mechanically, um and dial up that fastball command because when he’s got that, he’s as good as anybody in the sport and capable of shutting anyone down come October, but that fastball command will be a thing to watch and something that the Cubs are closely watching.

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QA: So this is a very important series for the Cardinals as there right in the middle of a wild card race. Every time these two teams play there’s a playoff atmosphere as they are rivals in the National League Central. Cardinals starter Mike Leake is winless against the Cubs this season, how do you think he will manage the lineup?

AB: I think he will give them a chance, you know he’s been pitching better as of late, I think one of the glaring differences between these two clubs is the Cubs are the best defense in baseball. They turn balls in play into outs at a high, high rate, and the Cardinals don’t. And for Mike Leake, he’s a guy who pitches to contact, he’s not going to strike out a ton of guys, but he still strikes out his fair amount, you know working that sinker and cutter, guys are going to put the ball on the ground, so it’s incumbent that the Cardinals make all the plays that they should, and don’t give a team like the Cubs extra opportunities because that’s where Mike Leake is going to run into trouble so I think the defense of the Cardinals plays a huge role down the stretch, and obviously if they can get into the playoffs.

QA: So we got Jason Hammel against Alex Reyes in game two. Hammel has been dominant at home in his last seven starts with a 7 and 0 record and a 0.98 ERA. Alex Reyes hasn’t allowed a run to the Cubs in 7 and 1/3 innings pitched against them. Who do you think will perform better on the mound in this one?

AB: I mean Hammel has struggled a bit in the month of September, so in many ways he kind of feels like the odd man out of the rotation come October but that being said, he’s got at least two more starts, you know so with a couple really strong starts, he could have a chance to earn himself a starting spot in the postseason or certainly solidify a role in the postseason. Even though the Cubs have wrapped up the division, these are very important games and important starts for him.

As for Alex Reyes, I think he’s shown Cardinal nation that has someone to be really excited about, and you know he’s pitching in huge games for them as they fight for their playoff lives, and he’s one of those guys on that team and one of those guys in the rotation, with tremendous upside, so if they did get into a postseason situation you know just-just based on the quality of his stuff, capable of matching up against another great pitcher or great lineup come October so, important starts for both guys.

QA:  So in the finale, we have Jon Lester on the mound, who is 6-0 in his last six starts with an ERA under one. Do you think the Cardinals lineup will be able to string together some runs off him or do you think he will continue his dominance?

AB:  Yeah he’s been great, and you know he’s kind of pitched himself into that Cy Young conversation which I think that award in both leagues is still to be determined, its one of the things with all the playoff races we have and pennant races we have, I think these postseason awards are all coming down to the final days which is exciting. Whether it be the MVP or the Cy Young, and now Lester is kind of pitched himself into that conversation with a dominant second half and a dominant final month here so yeah I think he’s pitching as well as he has at any time in his Cub career right now, and this just feels like one of those games where in a way is kind of a tune up for him as he prepares to probably get the ball in game one of the division series, but also a chance to deal a real blow to the club’s rival.

QA: I’ve recently written an article about this, but Jason Heyward has started to heat up recently for the Cubs. He’s a huge part of the team defensively in right field, but do you think he can clutch up at the plate in the postseason after he struggled at the plate all year?

AB: For as difficult of a year it’s been for him, he’s still an important part of what they do. When I look at this team and the number one thing that jumps out at me about you know when it comes tot he greatness of this club and I mean it’s one of complete teams we have ever seen, but the thing that stands out to me is their defense. He’s clearly a big part of that. He’s an impact defender in right field and I think that’s such an important part of what they do. Um offensively it’s been a lost season for him, there are some big adjustments he will have to make in the offseason but those aren’t necessarily  things you are going to dive into at this point in the season, um so I don’t now I would think depending on how he’s swinging the bat in the final week that’s going to go a long way in how much playing time he will get in the postseason. I think they will play the match-up game, The Cubs and Joe Maddon is going to look at who’s on the mound for them, and that goes a long way in setting their defense, but who’s on the mound for the opposing team, and that goes at creating their lineup and they have so many good players so many moving parts so much depth that could be something that could cost him some playing time if he’s not swinging the bat coming into the postseason.

Next: Pirates help Cubs secure home field advantage in Divison series

QA:  The Chicago Cubs are hitting very well as a team right now, do you think they will carry this momentum into the Division series?

AB: Well they are a very capable team offensively, I think what’s good about them is that they are so deep and they have so many moving parts. Joe Maddon has great options every day when it comes to creating the best match ups, again looking at who’s on the mound for his team, and looking at who’s on the mound for the opposing team and then kinda looking ok, where is Javier Baez playing today based on the match ups, Lester is on the mound, so we want Baez at third because we want Baez where the ball is going. So then you start filling in the rest of the lineup based on match ups or who is pitching for the other team you know, then they can beat you in many ways. They’re athletic, they can run the bases, and they have a number of guys that are very good at working the count so you can see sometimes a guy on the mound won’t give up a run to the Cubs in an inning, but it’s work cause they see a lot of pitches. I think that’s the kind of pressure they put on other teams with such a mature approach overall, they really grind out at-bats and I think that’s one of their strengths.