Perhaps fueled by the incredible start to September the St. Louis Cardinals are enjoying, the Chicago Cubs made quick work of their most recent opponent in a dominant three-game sweep. The National League Central rivals will face each other seven times over their final 16 contests, with the first of those meetings taking place Friday afternoon in the opener of a three-game set in Chicago.
The Cubs saw their lead in the division dwindle to two games after Milwaukee swept them at Wrigley Field last weekend, but the same offense that mustered only five runs and 19 hits against the Brewers came alive versus the New York Mets, piling up 39 runs and 41 hits while winning each game by at least five runs. The sweep of the Mets enabled the defending world champions to maintain their three-game advantage over Milwaukee and St. Louis in the Central heading into the weekend. The Cardinals, who trail Colorado by 2 1/2 games for the second NL wild-card spot, improved to 10-3 this month following a 5-2 victory over Cincinnati on Thursday but must carry the success from their 5-1 homestand into what figures to be a pivotal 10-game road trip. St. Louis has lost eight of the 12 meetings this season, including five of six in Chicago.
TV: 2:20 p.m. ET, MLB Network, FSN Midwest (St. Louis), ABC 7 (Chicago)
PITCHING MATCHUP: Cardinals RH Carlos Martinez (11-10, 3.33 ERA) vs. Cubs RH John Lackey (11-11, 4.65)
Martinez on Saturday became the first St. Louis pitcher since Steve Carlton in 1969 to reach 200 strikeouts in a season at age 25 or younger but settled for a no-decision against Pittsburgh despite yielding two runs and fanning eight across six innings. The two-time All-Star has been sensational in two September outings, posting a 1.20 ERA while striking out 18 and holding opponents to a .135 batting average. Martinez last faced the Cubs on July 21, when he did not factor in the decision after permitting three runs - two earned - in six frames.
Lackey also has been sharp in two starts this month, giving up two runs and seven hits while striking out 14 in as many innings. However, the 38-year-old absorbed a hard-luck loss last Friday versus Milwaukee despite fanning nine in seven frames, giving up a first-inning, two-run blast that proved to be the only offense either team would muster. Lackey is 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA in two starts this season versus the Cardinals, yielding two runs over seven innings against them in a no-decision on June 2.
1. The Cubs have scored a major league-best 347 runs since the All-Star break and rank second in the NL for the season with 746.
2. With his two-run shot in the fifth inning on Thursday, OF Tommy Pham became the first Cardinal to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in the same season since Reggie Sanders in 2004.
3. St. Louis OF Dexter Fowler (knee) is hopeful he will be cleared to return at some point during this series. Fowler has not played since being diagnosed with a left knee contusion last weekend.
PREDICTION: Cardinals 3, Cubs 2