With the All-Star break officially in the rearview mirror, the first-place Cubs open up the second half of the season with a five-game series at Wrigley Field against the division rival St. Louis Cardinals.
Chicago (55-38, 2.5 game lead) went into the break on a high note, sweeping a three-game set from the San Diego Padres to move into first place in the NL Central. The starting pitching wasn’t working at peak efficiency in the series, as no starter lasted more than 5 1/3 innings, but the bullpen and the offense were able to make it hold up en route to the sweep. The Cubs now turn their attention to the Cardinals (48-46, 7.5 GB), who ended the first half with a shakeup in leadership.
After losing to the Reds on July 14, St. Louis management decided it was time to part ways with manager Mike Matheny. The former Cardinals’ skipper had seen declining success on the field over the past 2 1/2 seasons and, when combined with reports over the past couple of weeks that paint a less than flattering picture of the clubhouse, St. Louis decided to relieve Matheny of his managerial duties.
So, where does that leave the redbirds the rest of this season? Tough to tell. The Cardinals have one of the better starting rotations in the National League, as they currently sport the second-best ERA (3.46) and third-best FIP (3.84) and fWAR (8.2), leading one to believe they could get back into the playoff race. However, the bullpen has been a bottom-tier group thus far, while the offensive production has been pretty middle-of-the-road thanks in large part to several veterans who are having disappointing seasons.
Game Time and Broadcast Info
- Thursday, July 19 at 6:05 p.m. CT on ESPN
- Friday, July 20 at 1:20 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago and MLB Network (out-of-market only)
- Saturday, July 21: Game 1 at 12:05 p.m. CT on WGN and MLB Network (out-of-market only)
- Saturday, July 21: Game 2 at 6:15 p.m. CT on Fox
- Sunday, July 22 at 1:20 p.m. CT on ABC 7 and TBS (out-of-market only)
What to Watch For
- Martínez has generally become the No. 1 starter for St. Louis, but the young right-hander has had his share of problems against the Cubs. In 15 career starts, Martínez is 4-4 with a 4.81 ERA, 4.00 FIP and has allowed a .268/.355/.403 line.
- It has been a bit of a struggle of late for Montgomery. After allowing just four earned runs over his first five starts (29 2/3 IP), the lefty allowed 14 over his next four (21 IP). While the underlying stats suggested he was not as good as his first five outings would have you believe, the regression in the other direction has been swift. His strikeout (16.7 to 14.4 percent), walk (6.1 to 8.3 percent), line drive (8.1 to 33.8 percent) and ground ball rates (58.1 to 38.0 percent) have all moved in the wrong direction, while his BABIP has skyrocketed from .188 to .343.
- Javy Báez has been on an absolute tear over the past month. Since June 11, Báez has slashed .374/.416/.652 with five home runs, 26 RBI and a wRC+ of 183. El Mago will have a chance to add to those numbers against a Cardinals team that has struggled to get him out in 2018. In eight games against St. Louis this season, Báez is hitting .393/.452/.821 with three home runs, five RBI and a wRC+ of 236.
- The Cubs’ bullpen may get a workout in Saturday’s doubleheader. Montgomery has made it through six innings in just five of his nine starts, while Chatwood has done so in just three of his 17 starts.