ST LOUIS CARDINALS (53-28) at CHICAGO CUBS (44-36)
The St. Louis Cardinals head to Wrigley Field to continue their rivalry with the Chicago Cubs as they begin a four-game series on Monday night.
The Cardinals have not slowed down with their winning despite taking on a few tough injuries and come into this divisional battle with victories in 10 of their last 15 games as they hold a healthy six-game lead in the division. They did struggle somewhat earlier last week, though, losing four straight contests against both the White Sox and Padres while scoring a meager six runs before finishing off San Diego with two victories and a split in the series at home. The final two games of the set were won with pitching as St. Louis gave up just two runs and capped it off with a nice 3-1 effort on Sunday in which they allowed three hits. OF Thomas Pham (.273) hit his first career homer as the leadoff man and will look to give his team a nice power and speed combo moving forward. The Cubs remain in the hunt for the postseason and they have continued their stellar campaign with wins in five of their last six outings. In that time they have dominated their opposition, outscoring them 19-5 with three shutouts against both the Mets and Marlins. Over the weekend, they took 2-of-3 from Miami and gained the edge in the rubber-match, a 2-0 victory in which they were a mere 1-of-8 with RISP but did just enough to back starter Kyle Hendricks start (7.1 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 6 K). Phenom 23-year-old, 3B Kris Bryant (.279), brings a six-game hitting streak into this contest and aided his team with a huge effort (2 HR, 6 RBI) on Saturday against the Marlins. A few seasoned veterans will battle it out on Monday as RHP John Lackey (6-5, 3.30 ERA) of the Cardinals goes head-to-head with LHP Jon Lester (4-6, 3.74 ERA) of the host Chicago group. St. Louis has been able to get it done on the road to the tune of a 22-17 record as they take on these Cubbies who are 22-16 when playing in the Windy City during 2015. These NL Central clubs have taken each other on 47 times since the start of the 2013 season with the Cardinals holding a 29-18 edge overall, but are an even 10-10 when playing on the road. It has been all St. Louis again this year as they are 7-2 against Chicago, but have yet to play at Wrigley Field. Trends show that Lackeys teams have gone 20-8 (.714) in road games during the month of July in his career while the Cubs are a solid 59-42 (.584) after batting .240 or worse over a 15 game span in the past two years. Plenty of regulars continue to be out for the Cardinals with OFs Matt Holliday (Quad), Jon Jay (Wrist) and 1B Matt Adams (Quad) remaining on the DL while Chicago is without OF Jorge Soler (Ankle), 2B Tommy La Stella (Ribs) and 3B Mike Olt (Wrist).
If you ignore the first two seasons that Lackey spent in Boston, when he posted ERAs of 4.40 and 6.41, the righty has put together another eight seasons since 2005 in which his ERA has been less than 3.90. He has never been a big strikeout guy with a career mark of 7.1 K/9 and has been effective in 2015 once again despite mowing down just 6.7 batters per nine innings. His control has been phenomenal (2.3 BB/9) and he has greatly diminished his homers allowed (0.69 HR/9) after giving up more than a long ball per nine innings in each of the last three years. Since May 29th (7 starts), the Cardinals are 5-2 when Lackey is on the mound and in six of those outings he has gone at least seven frames while giving up three or fewer earned runs. In his time against the Cubs (5 starts), he is 2-1 (4-1 team record) with a 2.34 ERA (1.27 WHIP) and has dominated them this year with three runs on 13 hits to go along with a 15:4 K/BB ratio in two starts (14.2 IP). OF Chris Coughlan (8-for-14, 2 RBI) has had no issues getting to Lackey when matching up, but 3B Kris Bryant, OF Dexter Fowler and 1B Anthony Rizzo have gone a cumulative 2-for-20 with nine strikeouts against the 36-year-old. The Cards possess some of the best relievers in the game and as a result the pen has gone 15-9 with a 2.16 ERA (1.21 WHIP) and is 33-for-38 (87percent) in save chances. Trevor Rosenthal (0.70 ERA, 24 saves) has just one of the five blown saves and has a 13:3 K/BB ratio with nine hits and a run allowed over his last 10 appearances (10.1 IP).
Lester was a huge addition to this young Cubs ballclub in the offseason and although his ERA is approaching 4.00, he has been able to give the team a legitimate veteran presence. Chicago is just 3-5 in his last eight outings and he has not won a game since May 16th despite having five appearances with at least six innings pitched and two or fewer runs allowed. His strikeouts (8.7 K/9) and walks (2.6 BB/9) have remained consistent from other years, but he is giving up his most homers (0.93 HR/9) since 2012 as 12.2percent of the oppositions flyballs are leaving the park. Hes had some great starts when meeting with the Cardinals, going 3-1 (4-1 team record) with a 1.85 ERA (1.15 WHIP) against them and earned a victory when he last saw them in May, going seven innings with four runs allowed (1 ER) on seven hits and whiffed six batters. OF Jayson Heyward has had a ton of success off of Lester, going 8-for-15 with four doubles and a homer against him in his career as SS Jhonny Peralta (8-for-31) has also shown some power with three round-trippers. Nobody on the offense for St. Louis has really struggled in their time against the lefty, but 1B Mark Reynolds (8-for-32, 3 doubles, 1 HR, 4 RBI) has not really excelled either. Chicago has amassed a solid bullpen as they are 19-13 with a 2.88 ERA (1.21 WHIP) and have successfully saved 20-of-30 (67percent) contests. Hector Rondon (2.10 ERA, 12 saves) has recently been used earlier in games as veteran Jason Motte (2.84 ERA, 4 saves) begins to get some opportunities in the ninth inning.