In their first meeting of the season, the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals have set the standard for this riveting 2016 rivalry.
Before Monday’s series opener – a three-game set the Cubs would win 2-1 at Busch Stadium – the Cardinals pulled off the ultimate troll job, displaying their NL Central pennants from the previous three seasons as the visitors took batting practice. Sure, it’s not “The Cardinal Way,” but the bitterness between the two sides is real.
And I love it.
The series featured plenty of storylines to discuss, headlined by Jason Heyward making his return to St. Louis after choosing the Cubs in free agency. However, the right fielder went 1-for-12 overall, turning the attention to former Cardinal John Lackey, who pitched a gem in Game 1 (7.0 IP, 4 H, BB, 11 SO).
All of this and more in this week’s impressions column.
- Dexter Fowler. Just think, what if he would’ve stayed committed to signing with Baltimore? Fowler now slashing .375/.508/.708 on the year out of the leadoff spot, including 10 total bases in the series. Without him in Chicago, who would bat first for the Cubs?
- Cubs pitchers working overtime. Combined, Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey have more RBI (7) and the same amount of home runs (1) as Mike Trout this season.
- Speaking of Lackey…
The veteran right-hander had that tough guy edge about him Monday night, recording outs against nine of the first 10 batters faced to begin the game. Lackey struggled out of the gates as a Cub, allowing six runs against the Diamondbacks in his debut, but doubled his swinging strikes total versus St. Louis.
Six of his 11 strikeouts came via his slider, a pitch opposing batters are hitting .133 against to begin the year. However, arguably more impressive on Monday was his changeup. Lackey only threw it nine times, but struck three batters out with it.
This one, in particular, to Matt Carpenter was nasty.
At a pivotal point in the ballgame, scoreless in the fifth, Lackey dug deep for this one. If Lackey is locating his off-speed pitches to counter his 93 mph heater, the Cubs may never get swept this season as teams challenge this rotation.
- Bryant adjusting midway through at-bats
For a young hitter, Kris Bryant is excellent at adjusting his approach during a game, as evidenced by Monday’s contest.
Facing sliders was one aspect of his game which caught my attention. Lifetime, Bryant has put sliders in play just 11 percent of the time, the lowest pitch outcome mark among remaining selections. However, his whiff percentage has been cut in half this season compared to last.
While it’s still a process for him, his changes made when facing Mike Leake were cool to see.
Seventh inning, 0-1 count:
Bryant was noticeably late on this offering by Leake, but down in the count, the Chicago third baseman fought off the 0-2 pitch:
Leake let the slider hang just over the outside corner, and Bryant went with it to shoot a blooper out to left field. Knowing it was coming, Bryant protected and got just enough on it to eventually score the game’s second run.
- Matt Carpenter doesn’t like changeups
Mentioned this briefly in the Lackey section above, but Matt Carpenter disappointed in the series (2-for-11) against Chicago pitching.
A career .297 hitter vs. left-handed pitching, Carpenter had a platoon advantage against starters in all three games. Instead, his average dropped 14 points, currently sitting at .236. Of the 15 current leadoff hitters in the National League, only four have a batting average lower than Carpenter’s (as of Thursday night). Those names: Billy Hamilton, Curtis Granderson, Denard Span and Michael Taylor.
Changeups were his downfall over the three-game series, with three of his four strikeouts coming courtesy of the pitch.
Monday, 3rd inning, 0-2 count vs. Lackey:
Carpenter didn’t have a prayer here, put simply. Once he saw the release point, he was ready to get defensive. Now, the fifth inning changeup shown early, because it’s too good not to watch a second time:
These are the types of situations Carpenter should be delivering in – two on, two out in a scoreless game. Now, let’s transition to Game 3 vs. Kyle Hendricks, first St. Louis batter of the game:
Fooled again, this time hesitant to pull the trigger and hoping to get wood on it. Carpenter previously had a four-game hitting streak before Wednesday, so this could be just a minor setback. Although it’s something to watch as the season progresses.