Chicago Cubs: Rivals meet in St. Louis as World Series defense begins
The first pitch of the 2017 MLB season is mere days away. The defending champion Chicago Cubs open with three games against their rivals, the St. Lious Cardinals.
Can you feel it, Chicago Cubs‘ fans? The warm summer sun, breeze holding the flags up, the ball slapping leather and the crack of the bat. Spring has sprung and umpires are warming up their vocal chords as if they were Luciano Pavoratti. All of this leads up to one of the greatest phrases ever uttered: Play ball.
When spikes meet dirt on Sunday night for the Chicago Cubs, it will be the start of their World Series title defense. In a humorous twist of fate, the Gods of Baseball thought it would be fitting to send the Cubs to the place they are hated most in all of baseball. That would be St. Louis. I am sure Ron Santo and Harry Caray are getting a chuckle over that while enjoying a steak and a nice, cold Budweiser.
Change of position
For the last decade or so, the NL Central has been the St. Louis Cardinals to lose. In fact, the Cardinals finished the season in first place 10 times since the NL Central was created in 1996. That changed last year when the Cubs crushed the division, winning by 17 1/2 games.
More from Chicago Cubs News
- Cubs starting pitching has been thriving on the North Side
- Make no mistake: the Cubs are very much about power hitters
- Cubs: It’s time to start thinking about potential September call-ups
- Cubs: P.J. Higgins deserves to be in the lineup on a daily basis
- Cubs might start to limit Justin Steele’s workload soon
Even with the large gap, the Cubs only won the season series 10 to 9, outscoring the Cardinals 90 to 71. And, while the Cardinals held the momentum in the series for several years, the Cubs own the best record between the teams. In the 2,382 games played, the Cubs are 1,207-1,156 with 19 ties.
Predictions for the series this season are all over the place. While most every major baseball resource picks the Cubs to come out victorious, the distance between teams is much narrower that last year. Could the Cubs win the NL Central title again? This series against their rival will go a long way to starting that defense.
Tale of the Tape
On paper, the Cubs have a clear advantage. The only position in which the two teams appear equal is at catcher. Yadier Molina, who is finalizing a three-year extension, is a Cubs Killer. Entering his 14th season, all with the Cardinals, the catcher is a career .308 hitter versus the Cubs. This includes 13 home runs, 94 RBI, and 37 doubles. As long as he is playing, do not count the Cardinals out.
The biggest question for the Cubs will be can they replace Dexter Fowler, who is now a Cardinal. Albert Almora Jr. is showing this spring that he is ready to take on that role. He finished with four home runs, 16 RBI, and hitting for a .339/.344/.677 slash line. Furthermore, his defense is an improvement over the departed Fowler. If you take Almora’s numbers from 2016 and extend them to similar plate appearances as Fowler, Almora produced at a higher rate.
We need a pitcher…
The biggest advantage the Cubs enjoy is their starting rotation. As a team, the Cubs were the best pitching rotation in all of baseball. They were tops in ERA and batting average against. As for the Cardinals, they finished 12th in ERA and 18th in BAA. Not a typical year for them.
Opening the season and series will be Jon Lester, who is coming off of one the best seasons of his career. And, after his two World Series championships with the Boston Red Sox, Lester comes back with sensational seasons. The Cardinals send Carlos Martinez to the mound. The Cubs perform well against Martinez, getting 32 runs in 61.2 innings.
Game two will feature Jake Arrieta and Adam Wainwright. This is the first year since 2012 that Wainwright will sit out Opening Day. His 2016 was a career worst for the veteran right-hander, with an ERA three points higher than in 2015. For Arrieta, he dominated the Cardinals in the past two season. Game three starter for the Cubs will be John Lackey. The Cardinals have not named their starter yet, though none succeeded versus the Cubs in 2016.
The opening game of the season is on Sunday, April 2, and will be the ESPN game of the night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. CT. Game two is slated for broadcast on MLB Network, at 7:15 p.m. CT on April 4. The series concludes on April 5 at 11:45 a.m., also on MLB Network. Be sure to check your TV provider for channel and availability.
Next: The Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist debate
The season is here, and the defense starts now. Be sure to check in with Cubbies Crib all weekend for complete coverage of all things Chicago Cubs.