Cubs at Cardinals (6:30pm ET Friday, TBS)
Fresh off defeating the Pirates with another masterpiece from Jake Arrieta in the Wild Card game, the Cubs now have to quickly pivot and face the St. Louis Cardinals in a best-of-five series.
The Cards made the race for the NL Central more interesting than it should’ve been, losing 8 of their last 11 games. Much of that downturn has been attributed to the loss of catcher and team leader Yadier Molina, who hasn’t played since tearing a ligament in his thumb on September 20. Molina has decided to try to return wearing a splint, which should give the Cards a huge emotional boost; whether he’ll be able to hit and catch remains to be seen.
Pitching to Molina will be John Lackey, who has been the Cards’ workhorse this season, leading the staff by more than 30 innings and posting a 2.77 ERA. In addition to a strong regular season, Lackey has a combination of playoff experience and success unmatched in baseball. He’s twice won the clinching game of a World Series, and has gone 7-5 with a 3.08 ERA in 117 innings.
Opposing Lackey will be his former teammate, Jon Lester. The two, along with Josh Beckett, were accused of consuming fried chicken and beer while members of the infamous 2011 Red Sox. In his first season with the Cubs, after signing a 6-year, $155 million contract, Lester at first blush pitched better than his 11-12 record would indicate. He had a 3.34 ERA, and was top 10 in the NL in WHiP, walk-to-strikeout ratio and innings pitched. But dig deeper and you see that Lester has been either brilliant or awful in 2015: in wins his ERA is 1.75, but in losses it’s 6.03.
Lester is one of the few guys who approaches Lackey’s postseason experience and success, going 6-4 with a 2.57 ERA in 84 innings on his way to winning two World Series titles. Like Lackey, he won a World Series clincher at the age of 23.
But Lester does have one glaring weakness: a refusal/inability to throw to first base to keep a runner from stealing. It became a topic of discussion this past spring and he subsequently led all of baseball with 44 stolen bases allowed, and has not picked off a runner since 2011. The Cards’ lone threat to steal is Jason Heyward, who stole 23 bases this season. Still, if you’re St. Louis, don’t you have to try to exploit this glaring weakness? They were 8-for-12 in five games against Lester this year.
Mets at Dodgers (9:30pm ET, TBS)
The NL’s other divisional series features two of the best pitching staffs in baseball, as the New York Mets pay a visit to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
For all the talk about Matt Harvey’s dashing good looks, Dark Knight-ness, alleged innings limits and missed workouts, it was Jacob deGrom who emerged as the Mets’ ace this season, going 14-8 with 205 strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA in 191 innings. DeGrom did have a couple of shaky starts down the stretch, twice surrendering 6 runs, but his lone start against LA in 2015 saw him go 7 ⅔ scoreless innings with 8 strikeouts.
Unfortunately for the Mets, deGrom will be facing off against Clayton Kershaw, who became the first pitcher in 13 years to strike out 300 in a season, while going 16-6 with a 2.13 ERA and allowing a paltry .521 OPS. Kershaw has dominated the Mets during his career, going 6-0 with a 1.34 ERA in 9 starts, and especially this year, going 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in 16 innings.
Despite being a 3-time CY Young winner and as close to a lock for the Hall of Fame as a 27-year-old pitcher can be, the knock against Kershaw is that he can’t win the big game – and we all know that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. Though Kershaw pitched well in his first 8 playoff appearances, over his past 3 he’s been beaten senseless, each time by the Cards. In 3 starts against St. Louis, he’s gone 16 ⅔ innings, while allowing 18 runs – all earned.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Watch the Chicago Cubs vs. the St. Louis Cardinals at 6:30pm ET Friday on TBS.
Watch the New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers at 9:30 pm ET Friday on TBS.