It’s been a while since the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs have shared realistic aspirations of the playoffs as they head into a series against one another.
Like this season, the Cardinals typically are in the hunt. The Cubs? Not so much. Their most recent appearance in the playoffs came in 2008.
This year, however, the Cubs (39-32) are providing company as their rebuilding process, initially believed to be a year away from maturity, has accelerated. They are in the postseason mix and their series this weekend against the Cardinals (48-24) at Busch Stadium is considered a barometer of their worthiness.
St. Louis has seized control of the National League Central with one of its best starts in franchise history. Although more than half the season remains and much can happen, division rivals Pittsburgh and the Cubs at this point are battling for wild-card spots.
Since the Cardinals and Cubs last met May 7 in the finale of a four-game series at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals are 26-17, while the Cubs are 25-19.
John Lackey (6-4, 3.41 ERA) will pitch against the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta (7-5, 3.07 ERA) at 7:15 p.m. Friday in a rematch of the May 7 game won by the Cardinals 5-1. Arrieta, otherwise, has been tough on the Cardinals, with a 3-1 record and 1.51 ERA in seven career starts against them.
Michael Wacha (9-3, 2.85 ERA) will pitch for the Cardinals at 6:15 p.m. Saturday. The Cubs have not announced their starter, but Travis Wood (4-3, 4.39 ERA) is the leading candidate. Donn Roach, who is 7-1 with a 2.29 ERA at Class AAA Iowa, also is under consideration.
Wood, who opened the season in the rotation, was moved to the bullpen and replaced by Tsuyoshi Wada. But Wada injured his left elbow in his start Monday and will not be available.
The ESPN nationally televised game at 7 p.m. Sunday matches the Cardinals’ Carlos Martinez (8-3, 2.89 ERA) against Jason Hammel (5-2, 2.65 ERA). Both rank among the top 10 in ERA in the NL.
The Cardinals are 4-2 against the Cubs this season. The teams split two games to open the season at Wrigley Field, with St. Louis winning 3-0 and losing 2-0.
In the May 4-7 series in St. Louis, the Cardinals won 10-9, 7-4 and 5-1. Their only loss came 6-5 in the third game of the series. The Cardinals trailed 5-0 and 8-4 in the 10-9 game, scoring four seventh-inning runs against the Cubs’ bullpen.
The Cardinals have outscored the Cubs 30-22 in the teams’ six meetings.