CHICAGO CUBS (12-24)
at ST. LOUIS CARDINALS (19-19)
First pitch: Monday, 8:10 p.m. ET
Line: St. Louis -165, Chicago +155, Total: 7.5
The Cardinals try to establish themselves as the team to beat in the NL Central when they start a four-game series against the long-time rival Cubs on Monday night.
Chicago is once again the bottom-feeder in the division, and comes into this game with seven losses in its past eight games, including a sweep at the hands of the Braves this weekend. The Cubs produced nearly no offense in the series, being outscored 10-4, and lost Sunday’s game 5-2 while going just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. 1B Anthony Rizzo is second on the team with a .285 average, but was just 2-for-11 with three strikeouts in the series. St. Louis has been playing below its usual standards by losing three of the past four series, but avoided being swept by the Pirates with a 6-5 victory on Sunday night. Each game in that series was decided by two runs or less, with the Cardinals able to hold on Sunday despite their bullpen allowing three runs in 3.2 innings. OF Allen Craig (.221 BA) started the season out slowly, but was 5-for-11 in the series with a homer, 4 RBI and three runs. Getting the call to start this game for Chicago will be LHP Travis Wood (2-4, 4.75 ERA) as he opposes fellow LHP Tyler Lyons (0-2, 3.43 ERA) for visiting St. Louis. The road has not been kind for the Cubs this season as they are just 5-13 in away games, while the Cardinals have played just 12 of 38 games at home this year, going 7-5 at Busch Stadium. St. Louis has been the much better team in this matchup since the start of the 2012 campaign, going 25-17 (.595) against Chicago overall and 15-6 (.714) when hosting in this series. But the Cubs took the first series of the season from May 2-4, taking two of three games with 18 hits and three homers over their two wins. Bettors should take notice that Chicago is 16-11 (.593) since the start of last season when playing on the road against a left-handed starter, but the club is only 16-35 (.314) after batting .225 or worse over a 10-game span in the same timeframe.
Travis Wood is coming off his worst outing of the season (4 IP, 8 H, 8 ER, 5 BB, 3 K’s) against the White Sox on Wednesday, but has still posted a career-high 8.6 K/9 rate in 2014, and has been unlucky with hitters having a .341 BABIP. Before facing the Sox, he took on St. Louis and was terrific, getting his second win of the season as he went seven innings, allowing six hits and three runs (2 ER) while striking out six with zero walks. The win brought Wood's career record against the Cardinals to 4-5 (5-7 team record) while sporting a subpar 4.90 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. The victory was his first against St. Louis in five tries, and he had just nine strikeouts over his previous four starts (19 IP). C Yadier Molina has absolutely dominated the lefty, going 12-for-30 (.400) with three homers, four doubles and 11 RBI. OF Matt Holliday (8-for-29, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 8 K’s), OF Jon Jay (10-for-25, 3 RBI) and OF Allen Craig (8-for-25, 2 HR, 2 RBI) have also had previous success against Wood. The only player on the roster who has really struggled against him is 2B Mark Ellis, who is 2-for-12 in his career. The Cubs’ bullpen has put together a 3-10 record and is 4-for-8 in save opportunities so far this year, with a poor 4.00 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Their relievers have been much better on the road though, with a 2.38 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while allowing just two home runs and striking out 54 batters in 56.2 frames. Hector Rondon (1.56 ERA, 3 saves) has taken over the closer role and is perfect in his three save chances while striking out 21 batters in just 17.1 innings.
Tyler Lyons has pitched in five games this year, three as a starter and two as a reliever, while having his best start of the season in his last outing on Tuesday. He faced the powerful Braves lineup in that game, going six innings and allowing just one run (a solo homer) on four hits with seven strikeouts and one walk. He’s been able get strikeouts when necessary, mowing down one batter per inning so far this season, and has given up just two homers in 21 frames. Lyons has yet to take on the Cubs in his young career, but will need to be careful when facing young 24-year-old 1B Anthony Rizzo, as he is tied for the team lead with seven homers and leads the club in both RBI (18) and walks (24). SS Starlin Castro has also been having a solid season (.282 BA, 5 HR, 16 RBI) but has only five hits in his past 30 at-bats with seven strikeouts. The Cardinals’ bullpen has gone 1-7 this year with a 3.83 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, and is 10-for-14 in save chances. Their closer, Trevor Rosenthal (4.96 ERA, 10 saves) has been perfect in his 10 save opportunities, but has already walked 10 batters in just 16.1 innings on the mound.