The Chicago Cubs have stumbled out of the gate to a 3-6 record, bad enough for a last-place tie in the National League Central Division.
But that doesn't mean that the St. Louis Cardinals can take them lightly when the two clubs square off for a three-game set starting Friday at Busch Stadium.
The Wee Bears have a lot of unfamiliar faces on the roster these days. And the Redbirds sometimes struggle against players they don't have a book about.
Cubs to watch:
The Chicago offense is largely a mess. The team is batting .239 with seven homers. Centerfielder Emilio Bonifacio, shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo have been carrying the bulk of the load. Bonifacio is batting a breathtaking .472 with three doubles and seven stolen bases in eight tries. Castro is riding a seven-game hitting streat and is batting .342 overall with a homer and two doubles. Rizzo is hitting .371 with a pair of doubles and a homer in the early going.
Bonifacio's speed could be a problem because the Cardinals pitching staff hasn't shown a lot of skill in making runners stay put so far this season. Catcher Yadier Molina, usually among the best at nabbing runners who take liberties, hasn't thrown out someone attempting to steal a base yet this year. But that's not his fault. Pitchers are letting runners get huge leads and by the time that the pitcher delivers the ball, Molina doesn't have a realistic chance of making a play. On several occasions, the jump has been so good that he hasn't even tried to make a throw.
Cubs de facto ace Jeff Samardzija will take on St. Louis fifth starter Joe Kelly in the opener Friday night.
Samardzija is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA through 14 innings. He's allowed 11 hits and struck out 11 batters in that span. He was 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA last season with the Cubs. He's 4-3 with a 4.37 career ERA against St. Louis.
Kelly, who found a spot in the starting rotation after Jaime Garcia was sidelined with an injury, is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA so far in 2014. He's allowed six hits and struck out four in 5 1/3 innings of work. Kelly was 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA last season. He's 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA against the Cubs in his career.
The Cardinals to watch play on the opposite side of the ball.
Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha will start Saturday and Sunday. With the way Shelby Miller and Lance Lynn have pitched in the early going, it's important for St. Louis' top two pitchers to dominate.
That being said, Allen Craig and Jhonny Peralta, both looking up at the .100 mark, need to start hitting if the Cardinals are going to play like they are capable.