A longstanding rivalry comes tonight on Sunday Night Baseball as the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals get together under the Busch Stadium lights to finish up their weekend set. It will be a matchup between Zach Davies and Adam Wainwright with the Cardinals in the -135 range at Jazz Sports with a total of 8.5 runs.
So far the teams have split the first two games, so we’ve got the rubber match tonight to consider. Let’s see which side will emerge victorious.
The Chicago Cubs are right about where they’ve been ever since winning the World Series in 2016. Their offense has been decidedly league average or thereabouts, despite a lot of big names and guys that have high pedigrees. The Cubs enter play for this one ranked eighth in wOBA at .320, but have a 101 wRC+. With wRC+, a number of 100 is league average, so the Cubs are basically right there.
And that’s what we’ve seen the last several seasons. Chicago has one last kick at the can this season because impending free agents like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo are all looking to go elsewhere, as the Cubs have become a dysfunctional front office with a billionaire owner crying poor. This group is playing for free agent dollars elsewhere, but also for one more crack at the postseason.
Bryant is off to an excellent start with a .307/.403/.607 slash and his trade value continues to skyrocket if the Cubs are not in the playoff picture as the July deadline approaches. Rizzo is off to a fine start as well with a .265/.377/.450 slash and more walks than strikeouts. Baez is also having a much better season than he had last year, especially in the power department.
Lately, as offense has crept up around the league, the Cubs have been part of that equation with a .342 woBA over their last nine games. They’ve cut down considerably on the strikeouts, as most teams have, and have had much better luck and better fortunes on their batted balls in play.
One guy not having a good season is Sunday starter Zach Davies. Davies has a 5.58 ERA with a 5.23 FIP in his first year with the Cubs. He, too, is an impending free agent. Davies has seen a massive drop in K% from 22.8% to 12% that also coincides with a big BB% jump from 6.9% to 11.5%. His Hard Hit% is also up to a career-high and his Barrel% is still concerning. Command and control have both faltered Davies this season.
Fortunately, the Cubs bullpen is much better than expected. The Cubs have a 3.10 ERA and a 3.62 FIP on the relief side over 177 innings of work. Chicago’s relievers have a high strikeout rate and a high walk rate, but they’ve kept the ball in the park and have stranded a high rate of runners.
St. Louis Cardinals
Despite making a lot more hard contact this season than in past seasons, the Cardinals offense still ranks in the bottom half of the league. Heading into this Sunday game, the Cardinals are 18th in wOBA at .306 and have a 95 wRC+, which means that they have been 5% below league average offensively. The Cardinals have one of the lower K% in baseball, but have just a .235 batting average to show for their efforts.
The Cardinals have a .304 wOBA at home. New Busch Stadium has never played as a great offensive ballpark. MLB installed a humidor there prior to this season and we haven’t seen too much of an impact on the offensive numbers as of yet. A lot of teams thrive in their home ballparks because their offenses are tailored to fit the dimensions or the conditions. That isn’t the case here with St. Louis, which is why a total of 8.5 is so interesting here.
Interestingly, when we break down this game, we see a Cubs offense that is well below average on the road. St. Louis has better road numbers than the Cubs. Obviously the Cardinals are at home here, so their numbers aren’t that important, but Chicago would be considered a better offense across the board, but what we see is the substantial impact that Wrigley Field has had on the Cubs. They aren’t at Wrigley Field tonight.
Adam Wainwright gets the call for the Cardinals in the series swing game. Waino has a 4.63 ERA with a 4.93 FIP on the season. He had a home run issue this year with nine of those across 46.2 innings of work. We’ve actually seen a few more strikeouts from him this year, but the homer has been his main problem. That being said, not surprisingly, Wainwright’s two worst starts have been on the road against Cincinnati and San Diego.
In 33 home innings, Wainwright has allowed just a .291 wOBA and has a 3.00 ERA. He’s allowed four homers at home and five on the road, despite pitching nearly 20 more innings at home.
The Cardinals bullpen is in the middle of the pack in a lot of categories. A high walk rate has been a big problem, but an emphasis on home run prevention has helped with the league’s lowest HR/FB% at 4.4%. All of St. Louis’s primary relievers worked yesterday to hold down a 2-1 win, so they’ll be pitching in a back-to-back situation tonight.
Cubs vs. Cardinals Free Pick
Is this a spot where Davies can have some measure of success? The Cardinals offense is nothing special and the ballpark suppresses power and run scoring, even with the newly-installed humidor. We will have a lot of balls put into play tonight, which creates a high-variance environment, though the Cardinals are extremely good defensively and the Cubs are solid as well. It’s a tough handicap.
In the end, with what looks like a toss-up kind of game, the Cubs are at the plus money price and it seems like a 50/50 kind of matchup, so we’ll side with them in this one.
Pick: Chicago Cubs