Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 at 7:00 PM
It’s been interesting watching ESPN go gaga over the current Major League Baseball series matching the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. That was their big TV game Monday night, and is again this evening at Wrigley Field. Normally, the emphasis would be on the “historical rivalry” factor in this series. But, we have a unique circumstance this season where BOTH teams are serious playoff contenders at the same time!
*St. Louis is a virtual lock for the playoffs given their huge lead on the field right now
*Chicago is in good shape for a Wildcard after rebuilding the franchise in short order
There are even some mainstream writers that will suggest to you that these are two of the seven best teams in the majors. Jonah Keri of Grantland just ranked St. Louis #1, Pittsburgh #4, and Chicago #7 from the NL Central division. Could the Cards and Cubs really be two of the best seven teams in baseball? Could the NL central have THREE of the top seven teams?
It’s pretty indisputable that nobody’s been better than St. Louis thus far given their current pace for around 105+ victories. Pittsburgh’s on pace for 95 wins…which is nothing to sneeze at either. The Cubs? They’re looking at around 88 wins on their current pace. But, there are definitely some skeletons in the closet.
*The Cubs were 19-14 in one-run games through Monday’s action, which means they’re barely over .500 in all other games. Records in games decided by two or more: St. Louis 37-15 (!!!), Pittsburgh 31-21, Cubs 25-23.
*The Cubs 9-6 vs. the struggling Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Bucks in their own division. That’s a .600 mark for a team playing .543 ball. Records when not playing Cincinnati or Milwaukee: St. Louis 43-24, Pittsburgh 40-24, Cubs 35-31.
*Given that the American League has continued to express an advantage over the National League in Interleague play, it would be VERY odd for the NL Central to have teams ranked #1, #4, and #7 in real-world Power Ratings that reflect team talent and projected form. Yes…the best team in the NL can be the best overall. But, three of the top seven? Tougher case to make.
For now, the Cubs are a legitimate Wildcard contender….but probably not quite as elite as mainstream cheerleaders are suggesting. Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats say about the series finale…
St. Louis: 4.00 runs per game, .324 on-base, .392 slugging
Chicago: 3.88 runs per game, .315 on-base, .378 slugging
St. Louis has been winning with pitching this season…as those stats don’t grade out well at all in the senior circuit. Chicago is even worse! So, an additional strike against the Cubs being “for real” is that they don’t have anything approaching a playoff caliber offense. Both offenses have been disappointing by league standards. Edge to the Cards head-to-head.
Michael Wacha: 2.66 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 7.1 K-Rate, 6.3 IP-per-Start
Jason Hammel: 2.89 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 9.1 K-Rate, 6.4 IP-per-Start
Wacha has had three shaky starts (by his norms) in his last seven outings. That’s a big part of why his won-lost record went from 7-0 to 10-3 after a great launch. He made the All-Star team, which might be bringing added pressure here (there are some historical trends about that for guys in a “look-ahead” position). His K-Rate and IP-per-start numbers aren’t really eye-popping for an All-Star choice. Hammel’s actually been the better pitcher in three of the four categories. Note that the Cubs are 3-6 in his last nine starts because the offense is averaging less than three runs a game for him. Chicago needs to find an offense!
Nice pitching matchup for the series finale. Might be a good spot for the Cubs because St. Louis has to catch a plane right afterward for a four-game series that begins Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Cubs are off Thursday before hosting the White Sox in a Windy City rivalry renewal this weekend.
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We’ll go in-depth in that huge Cardinals/Pirates series for you tomorrow…with a mix of baseball and college football on the immediate horizon here in the NOTEBOOK…
Thursday: MLB Series Preview…St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates
Friday: MLB Series Preview…Washington Nationals at Baltimore Orioles
Saturday: College Football Preview…Mid American “East”
Sunday: College Football Preview…Mid American “West”
Monday: College Football Preview…Sun Belt
Tuesday: MLB All-Star Break Report Card
Be sure you’re printing out those college preview articles (check the archives if you missed the first two weekends that featured the Mountain West and Conference USA!). As we build our bankrolls through the hot summer of 2015, get all of those BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!
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