Arguably the best rivalry in baseball, the Chicago Cubs and St Louis Cardinals will meet in the postseason for the first time ever Friday night. This is a classic tale of a young, up and coming team challenging the team that has dominated the NL Central in recent years.
The Cubs and Cardinals will be the most exciting divisional playoff series in the league. In fact, this is the only MLB playoff series that does not have a favorite according to Bovada. The Cardinals finished with 100 wins, which is the best record in baseball. While the Cubs are the hottest team in baseball, with a record of 42-18 since the trade deadline.
The Cardinals own the season series winning 11 games compared to eight. But the Cubs ended the year strong and won four of six games in September against the Cardinals.
Jon Lester will take the mound in the series opener Friday night at Busch Stadium. In five starts against the Cardinals this season, Lester went just 1-3 with a 2.59 ERA, while striking out 34 batters in 31⅓ innings. Lester had mixed results switching to the National League this season, going 11-12 but his ERA was 3.34 and had 207 strikeouts. In his Cubs debut, Lester allowed eight hits in 4⅓ innings in a 3-0 loss to the Cardinals.
St Louis will send out John Lackey to open the series against Lester and the Cubs. Lackey has dominated the Cubs this year going 2-0 in three starts with a 1.25 ERA and striking out 19 batters in 21⅔ innings of work. Lackey, a former teammate of Lester’s in Boston, is in his second year with the Cardinals and has been impressive in 2015. He finished with at 13-10 record and a 2.77 ERA with 175 strikeouts.
Key Cubs Hitters:
Chris Coughlin did not play on Wednesday night in the Wild Card matchup against the Pittsburgh Pirates. This should change considering how well Coughlin has hit Lackey in his career. Coughlin has eight hits in 17 at bats (.471 BA) against Lackey, which is the more than any other player on the Cubs. I see Coughlin having a major role in game one of this series.
The Cubs acquired outfielder Austin Jackson from the Seattle Mariners on August 31st. Manager Joe Maddon has used Jackson mostly as a pinch-hitter or a defensive sub at the end of games. But Jackson has hit Lackey pretty well during his MLB career going 5-16 (.313 BA). It will be interesting to see how Maddon decides to use Jackson in game one. Jackson came in late in the Wild Card game and went hitless in two at-bats.
There is no doubt the Cubs have some impressive rookies on their roster. Kris Bryant is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, while Kyle Schwarber showed off his clutch hitting with a 2-run home run against the Pirates in the Wild Card game, but Addison Russell is the rookie to watch in game one of this series. In a limited number of plate appearances, Russell has a .286 batting average (2-7) against Lackey. The Cubs are high on the shortstop and he could show up in a big way this postseason.
Key Cardinals Hitters:
Jason Heyward has always been a Cub killer, even during his time with the Atlanta Braves, and this year has been no different. Heyward’s first season as a Cardinal has been a solid one. He finished the year hitting .293 with 13 home runs, 60 RBIs and a .359 OBP. Heyward always seems to be on his best when facing the Cubs. He has great numbers against Lester as well with a batting average of .417 BA (10-24). If I had to predict a MVP for this series, Heyward would be my pick.
In 2015, Matt Carpenter has added the long ball to his game. Carpenter finished this season with a .272 BA with 28 home runs and 84 RBIs. His previous season high for home runs was 11 back in 2013. Carpenter has been in the postseason every year since being called up to the majors, so his experience will be an asset to the Cardinals. Like Heyward, Carpenter also has great numbers against Lester going 7-15 (.467 BA).
This is a National League Divisional Series for the ages. The Cubs finished with the third best record in all of baseball, while the Cardinals finished with the best record. The rivalry is back and it is better than ever.