Don’t look now, but the Chicago Cubs are coming to Busch Stadium to face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
It marks the first time in history the teams will meet in the playoffs.
The Cubs and pitcher Jake Arrieta silenced the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 on Wednesday night at PNC Park in the NL wild-card game as they reached the division series for the first time since 2008. Arrieta allowed four hits, walked none and struck out 11 in the complete-game performance.
Game 1 of the best-of-five division series will be at 5:45 p.m. Friday, when John Lackey (13-10, 2.77 ERA) will oppose best friend Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34 ERA) of the Cubs.
Cardinals pitcher Carlos Villanueva was with the the Cubs in 2013 and 2014 before coming to St. Louis as a minor-league free agent in the offseason.
“I’ve said it before: I’m proud of the guys, especially the ones I played with, because they’ve grown a lot,” Villanueva said of the Cubs. “A guy like (Anthony) Rizzo, the guy’s a clown, and he’s going to be even better with age. The transformation they’ve made ... You’ve got to give credit to (manager Joe) Maddon and (president) Theo (Epstein) for all they’ve done.”
Villanueva said the Cubs were “horrible” in his two years in Chicago. Indeed, they were, finishing 66-96 in 2013 and 73-89 in 2014.
“Everybody saw it. You can’t hide,” Villanueva said. “We weren’t very good, but they were preparing for this. They kept saying it. The fans get restless. They’re like, ‘Yeah, we’ve heard it before, every year.’ But look how quick it came for them. One year later, after losing 100 games two years in a row, they almost won 100 games this year. Who would have thought?”
The Cardinals won the NL Central with a 100-62 record, finishing three games ahead of Chicago (97-65). The Cubs were 8-11 against St. Louis in the regular season, although they won four four of the final six meetings.
“Every time we went to Chicago, it was a battle,” Villanueva said. “The atmosphere is different. The fact that they think they can beat us now, and they believe it, makes it even more fun.”
Game 2 of the series will be at 4:38 p.m. Saturday at Busch. Game 3 will be Monday at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Game 4, if necessary would be at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. If a Game 5 is needed, it would be Thursday in St. Louis.
“It will be much like what we’ve seen all season long, just a knockdown drag-out,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of the NLDS.
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said he sensed early in the season that the Cubs were a team on the rise.
“Watching their evolution, it was something that became pretty obvious early on,” Mozeliak said. “You could tell they had a lot of the right pieces to be successful. To put it all together is a compliment to everyone involved.”