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CHICAGO CUBS (13-10) at ST LOUIS CARDINALS (18-6)
The much improved Chicago Cubs head to St. Louis to begin a series against their NL Central rivals, the Cardinals on Monday night.
The rebuilding is nearly complete for the Cubs and is evidenced by their improved play this year as theyve won five of their past eight games coming into this one. Their pitching was what won a majority of those games with opponents averaging 1.4 runs per game in those five victories. They were unable to get a series win when they hosted the Brewers over the weekend, though, losing 2-of-3 games as the offense managed a meager five runs in the three-game set. Chicago finished it with a 5-3 loss on Sunday where they were just 2-for-10 with RISP and saw the bullpen give up the lead in the eighth inning. Power-hitting 1B Anthony Rizzo (.321) continues to develop his game and has six extra-base hits over his past nine games with seven runs over that period. On the other side of the diamond, St. Louis continues its dominance of the NL Central while riding a six-game winning streak coming into this contest and is coming off a sweep of the Pirates over the weekend as all three of the games went into extra innings and were one-run contests. They completed the sweep on Sunday afternoon in a 3-2 contest where they saw 2B Kolten Wong (.294) hit a walk-off homer in the 14th frame. Also hitting a homer was 3B Matt Carpenter (.365) who has seven extra-base hits, six multi-hit games and nine runs scored in the past 10 times out. The pitching matchup will see LHP Travis Wood (2-1, 3.04 ERA) of the Cubs go against 23-year-old RHP Carlos Martinez (3-0, 1.73 ERA) for the host Cardinals. Chicago has performed well when on the road this year with a record of 6-3 as they will be facing a St. Louis team which is a tremendous 11-2 at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals have managed a 23-17 (.575) record in this matchup since the start of the 2013 campaign and are 13-7 when playing at home in that time. Each team earned a shutout win in the two games over the first series of this year as the Cubs had a meager five hits. Trends show that Chicago is 88-76 (.537) in Monday road games since 1997 as they are a putrid 9-29 (.237) after having won five or six of their past seven games in the past three seasons. Infielders 3B Mike Olt (Wrist) and 2B Tommy La Stella (Ribs) continue to be on the DL for the Cubs as OFs Randal Grichuk (Back) and Tommy Pham (Quad) are out for St. Louis.
Wood has rebounded from a poor 2014 campaign, when he posted a 5.03 ERA, to put up four consecutive outings where hes allowed three or fewer runs to start out the new year. Not usually known has a strikeout pitcher; Wood has been able to mow down batters at an impressive rate (9.9 K/9) in 2015 and has also shown career-best control (2.3 BB/9) while giving up his usual large amount of homers (1.1 HR/9) as he only gets batters to hit the ball on the ground 31percent of the time. The lefty has had little success when facing the Cardinals in his career, going 5-6 (7-9 team record) with a 5.38 ERA (1.49 WHIP) as he allowed 21 runs (16 ER) in his last four starts against them (21.2 IP). Hes had a lot of issues against both OF Matt Holliday (15-for-40, 4 doubles, 4 HR, 9 RBI) and C Yadier Molina (15-for-38, 4 doubles, 3 HR, 13 RBI) while 1B Matt Adams (3-for-13, 2 K) and 3B Matt Carpenter (8-for-30, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 6 K) have not had quite as much success. The bullpen for the Cubs has been solid, going 5-3 with a 3.33 ERA (1.15 WHIP) but is a mere 5-for-9 in save chances. Despite the four blown saves, closer Hector Rondon (1.64 ERA, 5 saves) has been great with just one of those as he owns an 11:1 K/BB ratio in 11 appearances (11 IP).
Martinez will be a huge piece of this ballclub moving forward as the team leans on him heavily with Adam Wainwright out for the year. Hes looked good in his short career thus far, posting a 3.63 ERA (1.44 WHIP) over 62 innings as a starter and has struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings in that period. So far this year, the youngster has put up four consecutive quality starts and has given up a miniscule 17 hits in his 26 innings on the mound. He has yet to face Chicago as a starter, but owns a solid 2.61 ERA (1.44 WHIP) when facing them over 10.1 frames out of the bullpen. The batters on the Cubs have combined to go a very poor 4-for-23 (.174) with eight strikeouts as just one of those balls has gone for extra bases. The relievers for St. Louis are once again one of the best and they currently are 7-2 with a 1.51 ERA (1.06 WHIP) while successfully saving 11-of-13 contests. Trevor Rosenthal (1.42 ERA, 8 saves) has done a great job in the closers role once again and has 16 strikeouts with seven hits allowed in 12.2 innings.
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