Playoffs are right around the corner. With the playoff picture starting to fall into place, two massive series will take place this weekend.
St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs
The Cubs have lost three straight games, putting them 4 games back in the division and 1 game back of the 2nd wild card spot. As the host the Cardinals, a series win could put them right back in the divisional picture and perhaps almost guarantee themselves a wild card spot.
With this crucial series taking place this weekend, Anthony Rizzo has come back sooner than expected from injury to be a part of it. With no wiggle space, Chicago needs to make a run starting this weekend to ensure themselves a playoff spot.
The Cardinals pitching staff has been dominant this second half of the season, Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, and Jack Flaherty have been a big reason as to why the Cardinals hold the divisional lead and have two teams on their tail.
Jack Flaherty is perhaps having the best 2nd half of any starting pitcher in baseball. In his 85.1 innings pitched this half, he sports a 1.05 ERA with 107 strikeouts and a 0.76 WHIP. His K/9 went up from 9.93 in the first half to 11.29 in the second half. His HR allowed per 9 innings pitched decreased from 1.86 to 0.53. Flaherty is dominating and it will be a fantastic sign for the Cardinals if the 23-year-old can keep this up come playoff time.
A crucial piece for the Cubs is starting pitcher Yu Darvish. When Darvish is on, he is one of the most dominant pitchers to face in all of baseball. However, he often has control problems and that was shown in the first half of the season. If we take a look at his first half, he had a 5.01 ERA with 111 K’s over 97 innings. It’s been a tale of two halves for Darvish as this 2nd half of the season he’s been mowing through batters.
This half of the season, Darvish has a 2.70 ERA with 106 K’s over 73.1 innings. That calculates to an unreal 13.01 K/9 rate. His control is there too, as his BB/9 rate in the first half was an abysmal 4.55. This half however he has almost eliminated those walks to a rate of 0.86 BB/9, an unbelievable rate. Darvish is an interesting pitcher to say the least, as he has 7 pitches in his inventory which automatically sets the hitter at a disadvantage.
We know how talented the Cubs lineup is, especially with the early return of their first baseman Anthony Rizzo. All the weight falls on the Cubs’ rotation and it will be interesting to see how they perform when they’re needed most.
The 4-game series kicked off on Thursday with a 5-4 Cardinals win. Game 2 takes place Friday during the afternoon. Games 3 and 4 will occur this weekend with Darvish on the mound for Chicago on Sunday.
Philadelphia Phillies at Cleveland Indians
A must win series for both teams. The Phillies sit 4 games out of the wild card as the Indians are tied for the 2nd wild card spot. Both teams are in need of a series win, but mostly the Phillies. If Philadelphia gets swept, it’s safe to kiss their season goodbye. If the Indians get swept, they can’t afford to lose more than 1 game for the remainder of the season.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, they will need to face Shane Bieber in Friday’s matchup. Bieber has been one of the league’s best this season, and this Phillies lineup is prone to making noise. If they’re able to attack Bieber early, they could snag a crucial first game in Cleveland.
That being said, the Indians pitching staff needs to find a way to attack this Phillies lineup. With a middle of the order that consists JT Realmuto, Bryce Harper, and Rhys Hoskins, things could get out of hand quickly. The Indians pitching staff is among the league’s best and they certainly have the lineup to back it up.
Zach Plesac will get the ball in Saturday’s affair. Since Plesac doesn’t rack up many K’s (79 K’s over 106.1 innings pitched), he’s going to need to find ways to produce ground balls against this Phillies lineup. Anything up in the zone against the Phillies will end in a bad result. The more K’s he’s able to get the better but being able to keep the ball on the ground will be huge.
For the Phillies, this lineup is going to have to be aggressive against Bieber and Plesac. If it means striking out more, so be it. Bryce Harper already takes an aggressive approach at the plate with his 167 K’s on the season. The Bieber vs. Bryce matchup on Friday night will certainly be an entertaining one to watch.
Harper is hitting .240 this season against right-handed pitching with a .833 OPS. While his splits show that he is a much better hitter against lefties, he has more at-bats against righties. He also 1.7% more against right-handed pitching. Bieber has the advantage on Harper, but we’ll see how Bryce can handle the right-handed pitching over the weekend as all 3 Cleveland starters are righties.
Waiver Wire Targets
Kyle Lewis, Seattle Mariners (15.3% owned/ESPN)
While the Mariners’ season is over, they are giving some prospects and role players the opportunity to show off their talent. Kyle Lewis is one of those players. In Lewis’s 36 AB’s he’s hitting .306 with 5 homers, 10 RBI’s and 2 doubles. It seems as though he’s become their everyday outfielder for the remainder of the season, so make sure to give him a look if you have an OF slot available.
Johnny Cueto, San Francisco Giants (31.2% owned/ESPN)
Cueto has made to scoreless starts coming off the IL from Tommy John surgery. His next start is Saturday against the Braves, and it will be his first difficult opponent. He probably won’t get 7 innings of work, but he will provide you with few walks and hits allowed. I think it’s a safe bet to add him to your roster prior to Saturday’s matchup against the Braves.
Retired Little League baseball utility player.