Series 39 Preview: Cubs vs. Cardinals

Wainwright

Adam Wainwright will throw Sunday against the Cubs. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Cardinals have spent most of the season at or near the top of the standings in the tough NL Central—meaning they could be considered one of the best teams in baseball—but they do have some weaknesses. Although their league-leading offense is great at piling on runs in blowout wins, they’re 15-14 in one-run games. Add in some problems with outfield defense, and overall they’re fairly mediocre in the field. But when you have the strongest lineup in baseball and two of the league’s best starters, you have to be less than perfect somewhere else, right? The Cards’ veterans—Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday—are all having strong seasons, but it’s the rookies who have really made the difference. The youngsters are the main reason St. Louis has been able to withstand a serious rash of injuries.

HITTING: 4.88 Runs Scored/Game (1st in NL)
The Cardinals offense can destroy weak starters and tear middle relievers to pieces. They may not be the sabermetric ideal, with a league-average walk rate and a lot of quick at-bats, but Yadier Molina (fresh off a DL stint), Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter are all hitting better than .314, and they put a ton of well-hit balls in play. Veteran outfielders Holliday and Beltran provide the pop, but when one of them needs a day off, the Cards can rotate Craig to the outfield and spot-start the best bench bat in baseball—sweet-swinging rookie Matt Adams, who carries an .813 OPS into the series. To make matters worse for opposing pitchers, David Freese looks like he’s finally shaking off the rust of his slow start. If there’s anything the Cardinals don’t do well, it’s run. They attempt to steal less often than any other NL team, but with their powerful offense, why risk handing the defense an out?

PITCHING: 3.73 Runs Allowed/Game (5th in NL)
The Cardinals have done well given the body blows they have taken in the rotation, first losing co-ace Chris Carpenter for four months and then Jaime Garcia for the season. But Sunday’s starter Wainwright has a great shot at winning the NL Cy Young Award, and Shelby Miller could claim Rookie of the Year honors. The question is whether they’ll find a third mate to solidify a postseason rotation. Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook (Friday’s starter) are good innings-eaters, but the Cardinals are monitoring Carpenter’s comeback in the hopes he’ll recover from his shoulder injury and round out their rotation for the stretch run. They could also use another reliever with swing-and-miss stuff beyond the hard-throwing Trevor Rosenthal. Forkballer Edward Mujica isn’t a classic closer, and while playing matchup games with righty Seth Maness’ heavy sinker and situational southpaw Randy Choate has worked well enough so far, they’ve been auditioning hard-throwing farmhands all year.

—Christina Kahrl

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