7:15 PM EST, MLB Network – Line: Cardinals -115, Over/Under: 8.5
Bitter Rivals meet with the Division on the line as the surging St. Louis Cardinals host the Chicago Cubs in the final leg of a three-game series from Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. The final two months of the Regular Season are setting up quite a finish in the National League Central, where the Cubs (56-49, 1st in NL Central) have now seen their lead evaporate altogether, with their opponent tonight pulling within a tie, while the Milwaukee Brewers are breathing down their neck. 9-6 since the All-Star Break, Chicago’s Offense has been fine, but their Pitching Staff, or their troublesome Bullpen in particular, is what’s making everyone on the South Side uneasy. Pedro Strop (2-4, 5.20 ERA, 32 G, 9 SV, 27.2 IP, 23 H, 16 ER, 5 HR, 9 BB, 29 K, 1.157 WHIP) was intended to be the Closer, but has largely failed to step into that role, registering just Nine Saves in Thirty-Two Appearances. Now, with the Reliever heading to the 10-Day Disabled List, the need to bolster the Bullpen is now more important than ever, and Joe Maddon’s charges made a move before Wednesday’s Trade Deadline, adding David Phelps (0-0, 3.63 ERA, 17 G, 0 SV, 17.1 IP, 14 H, 7 ER, 3 HR, 7 BB, 18 K, 1.212 WHIP) from the Toronto Blue Jays. Missing the entire 2018 campaign after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Phelps has posted a 3.63 ERA with a 1.212 WHIP in Seventeen Appearances with Toronto thus far. Taking the mound tonight for the Cubs will be Jon Lester (9-6, 3.63 ERA, 20 GS, 114.0 IP, 125 H, 46 ER, 18 HR 26 BB, 110 K, 1.325 WHIP), who will be searching for a victory after successive Starts without a Decision. Now in his fourteenth year in the Majors, the Lefthander has been a rock in the middle of Maddon’s Rotation this season, mowing down opposing batters with an ease that he hasn’t displayed in quite some time; at 4.23 Strikeouts per Walk, Lester hasn’t been this efficient since 2015, which coincidentally was the last in a four-year stretch in which he posted a K/BB Ratio over 4.00. When we last saw him, the veteran was unfortunate to leave the mound without a Decision despite tossing seven scoreless innings of quality labor, despite being scratched earlier in the week due to illness. This has become something of a habit for Chicago this season, for their 3-5 loss at Milwaukee marked a dreaded 5-11 record in One-Run Games, while also bringing their resume’ away from Wrigley Field to a dismal 19-31, including 4-14 within the NL Central. In line for the Win, Lester left the game with a 2-0 lead feeling under the weather, which Reliever, Steve Cishek (3-5, 3.04 ERA, 50 G, 7 SV, 47.1 IP, 35 H, 16 ER, 5 HR, 17 BB, 43 K, 1.099 WHIP) blew in the Eighth Inning, The visiting side had retaken the lead come the Top of the Tenth, but their Closer, Craig Kimbrel (0-2, 6.75 ERA, 12 G, 7 SV, 10.2 IP, 10 H, 8 ER, 4 HR, 8 BB, 14 K, 1.688 WHIP), gave up a pair of Homers in the bottom half of the frame. So let’s take a moment to put this is proper context, shall we? Saturday’s outing featured Two Blown Saves in the same game for the second time this season, bringing their total to Eight in the month of July alone, easily the most in the Majors. Kimbrel was signed as a Free Agent back in early June with designs on fixing the Cubs’ inconsistent Bullpen, but the seven-time All-Star has been slow to acclimate himself, failing to assert himself as their prime Closer.
Meanwhile, after largely meandering their way through the months of May and June, the Cardinals (56-49, 1st in NL Central) have been one of the hottest teams in the Majors since the All-Star Break, winning twelve out of their last seventeen games. As a result, St. Louis has pulled within a tie with the Cubs for First Place in the AL Central, and don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Since the Midsummer Classic, Mike Shildt’s charges have found their power stroke, smashing Twenty-Nine Home Runs, the second-most in the National League over that span. Of course, Paul Goldschmidt (.255 BA, 105 G, 100 H, 65 R, 10 2B, 24 HR, 57 RBI, 48 BB, 114 K) has played a huge role in their turn, batting .262 with Sixteen Hits, Eight Home Runs, and Twenty Runs Batted In, with the All-Star First Baseman homering in six consecutive games last week. Once the likes of Yadier Molina (.261 BA, 71 G, 68 H, 24 R, 16 2B, 4 HR, 36 RBI, 9 BB, 34 K) and Marcell Ozuna (.259 BA, 78 G, 76 H, 52 R, 15 2B, 20 HR, 62 RBI, 31 BB, 68 K) return from what is expected to be brief stints on the Disabled List, their surge should continue. The Pitching Staff has done their part as well, certainly benefitting from Run Support that wasn’t readily available throughout the season’s first half. Thus far, the Cardinals ranks Fourth in National League in Team ERA (4.15), Wins (56), Hits (857), and Earned Runs Allowed (430), and since the Break, their arms have gone 12-5 with a 4.18 ERA and 1.346 WHIP. Taking the mound tonight for St. Louis is Jack Flaherty (4-6, 4.17 ERA, 21 GS, 114.1 IP, 99 H, 53 ER, 21 HR, 38 BB, 131 K, 1.198 WHIP), who has now gone Eleven Starts without a Win. Now in his second full season in the Majors, the 23-Year Old and former First Round Pick is full of promise, but is still very much in the stages of putting everything together. However, there are some encouraging signs that the Righthander may be doing just that; in the month of July, Flaherty has yielded just Eight Runs on Twenty-One Hits over 29.0 Innings of labor, totaling Thirty-Seven Strikeouts in comparison to Eleven Walks, all the while posting a solid 2.48 ERA. In his last Three Starts, all of which ended without a Decision, he permitted a scant Three Earned Runs on a Dozen Hits, striking out Twenty-Four Batters with just Six Walks, and more importantly, the team went 2-1 in those appearances. Flaherty has made Three Starts against the Cubs this year, though hasn’t enjoyed much success, earning a 5.65 ERA with a 1.395 WHIP, Seventeen Strikeouts and Seven Walks.