The Chicago Cubs will try to build on their National League Central lead when they face the visiting St. Louis Cardinals on Friday.
The game will open a five-game series at Wrigley Field. The division-leading Cubs (22-15) hold a 3 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals (14-14) and they are 3-2 against them this season.
Both teams will be looking for more offensive depth.
“You know it’s in there. It’s just a matter of time,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “These guys are too talented for it to continue the way it’s been going. It’s nice. I know they put a lot of pressure on themselves to contribute and want to do well, all those guys.”
Among Cubs regulars, only Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Victor Caratini are hitting better than .240. And Happ suffered a facial contusion during Thursday’s 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates after fouling a ball back into his face.
The Cardinals scored 30 runs while winning three straight games before their 4-3 road loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday.
With veteran outfielder Dexter Fowler sidelined by a stomach ailment, the Cardinals need production from outfielders Harrison Bader (hitting .196), Tyler O’Neill (.178), Dylan Carlson (.176) and Lane Thomas (1-for-12).
“I don’t need them to feel like they’ve got to go out and absolutely kill it every single night to get another chance,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “But the fact of the matter is if we see good at-bats and we see productive at-bats and we see good play in other areas that help us win baseball games, guys will get more opportunities.”
The Cardinals have high hopes for Carlson, their top offensive prospect. But he has struggled against the changeups and curveballs he has seen since his promotion.
“It’s like major league baseball got together and said, ‘We’re going to throw this guy nothing but breaking balls.’ Pitched him tougher than anybody in the league,” Shildt said.
The Cubs are also looking for better starting pitching. Their rotation had a 2.55 ERA in the first 16 games, then a 5.42 ERA in their next 21 games.
They will start Yu Darvish (6-1, 1.47 ERA) Friday. He held the Cardinals to one run on eight hits in six innings of a 6-3 victory on Aug. 18. Darvish is 1-2 with a 3.56 ERA in five career starts against the Cardinals.
Paul Goldschmidt (8-for-22, double, homer, three RBIs), Kolten Wong (4-for-8) and Tommy Edman (4-for-10) have hit Darvish well while Brad Miller (1-for-16) and Paul DeJong (1-for-9) have not.
The Cardinals will counter with Jack Flaherty (2-0, 1.93), who worked just 1 2/3 innings in his only outing against the Cubs this season. He is 3-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 appearances against them.
Cub slugger Anthony Rizzo (9-for-19, three homers, six RBIs) has worked over Flaherty in his career, but Jason Heyward (1-for-17), Javier Baez (1-for-13 eight strikeouts) and Kris Bryant (2-for-18, 10 strikeouts) have struggled against him.
The Cubs acquired outfielder Jose Martinez, a former Cardinal, from the Tampa Bay Rays before the deadline. Martinez will experience this Cubs-Cardinals rivalry from the other side.
“A lot of good friends over there,” Martinez said. “But now it’s about competing, and now I’m with a different organization. It’s going to be fun because I’ve played over there, too, and I’m here now. So I can feel how it is on both sides.”
–Field Level Media