By Craig Phelps

The St. Louis Cardinals (11-5) are traveling to the “Friendly Confines” of Wrigley Field today as they start a three game series against the Chicago Cubs (4-12).  The defending 2011 World Series Champions are currently 2-1 against the 1908 World Series Champions.  The Red Birds lone loss to the teddy bear’s came on via a 9-5 decision on the home opener at Busch Stadium.  The last time these two teams met up was Friday, April 13 through Sunday, April 15.  This is a three game series that will span from today, Monday, April 23, through Wednesday, April 25.  Here are your stats and players to keep an eye on for this series.

St. Louis Cardinals

Six is Serious, But Sixteen is Better: Including the one game series against the Miami Marlins to open up the regular season, the Cardinals have won six straight series in 2012.  In fact, dating back to last year, the Birds on the Bat have seen 16 straight series victories including the post-season.  The last time they lost a series was when they dropped two of three to the Cincinnati Reds between September 2nd, 2011 and September 4th.  Two of these series wins have now come over the Chicago Cubs.

Injuries Not a Problem:  With Jon Jay, Lance Berkman, Chris Carpenter, Scott Linebrink, and Allen Craig all either on the DL or riding the pine with an injury (Jay), the young guns on the bench have stepped up in spectacular fashion.  Matt Carpenter started off the season in shocking style as a fill-in at first base for Lance Berkman.  Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene may just be hitting .209 and .226 respectively, but their defense  has allowed Descalso to be shipped around the infield as needed to spot other players days of rest or fill in for those on the IR.  Center fielder Shane Robinson has been hitting grapefruits through his first 24 plate appearances; he has a batting average of .391 with a walk, 5 RBI’s, 1 homerun, 9 hits, and has crossed the plate a grand total of 6 times in 11 games.  Outfielder Erik Komatsu and back-up catcher Tony Cruz have been providing solid defensive relief that has allowed for the likes of Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina to be spotted rest days.

Pitching Domination: The Red Birds offense has received high praises for scoring five or more runs in 50 percent of their games, but their pitching has been nothing short of dominant itself.  The Cardinals hurlers are allowing under three runs a game and have the fourth best ERA (2.72) in the National League.  While they may rank tenth among their fellow NL’ers in strikeouts, they rank third in opponents’ batting average with those in the batter’s box hitting just .222.  They have forced the 2nd most double plays (16), have allowed the least amount of stolen bases (3), and are the proud owners of the second best opponents on base percentage (.270) in the NL.

Key Factor – Rafeal Furcal: The Cardinal’s starting shortstop is somehow managing to hit .369 this season and is hitting .500 in his last six games.  Over those six games, Furcal has hammered in four RBI’s, crossed the plate four times, doubled three times, and has walked three times while only striking out once.

Player to Watch – LYNNsational: Wednesday’s predicted starter, Lance Lynn, has been so spectacular as a fill-in starter for Chris Carpenter that he has earned his own, special bulletin in this series preview that is separate from the rest of the IR fill-ins.  Lynn is currently 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three games, 19 innings, and is currently leading the team in strikeouts at 17.  Opponents are only averaging a run a game against Lynn.  While he went just 5.1 innings during his last outing against the Cubs on April 14th, he managed to fan five Cubbies in the team’s 5-1 victory.

Chicago Cubs

Struggling Pitchers, Struggling Team: The Cubs are throwing out three starting pitchers in Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and Chris Volstad who are all coming off of a loss.  Garza earned six runs in just five innings during his last outing against the Marlins on April 18th.  Samardzija was the starting pitcher for the Cubs lone win against the Cardinals the last time these two teams met up, but St. Louis managed to score five runs off of him in as many innings; he has actually allowed five runs in two straight games now after his loss on April 19th to Miami.  Volstad has allowed a total of 11 earned runs in three games and is still searching for that first, ever so precious “W.”

2-3-5 Says it All:  Our friends from the north are hitting just .235 this season, 23rd in Major League Baseball.  They manage to bump up to 20th in overall runs scored with 59 in 16 games, but are tied with the eighth most strikeouts in the league at 123; the Cardinals are actually seventh at 126 swing and misses.  The Cubbies have the third least amount of extra-base hits at 34, but they actually manage to pull in a runner up spot in one category; they have grounded into the second most double plays in the league (16).

Home Field Disadvantage: The “Friendly Confines” have been everything but friendly to the Chicago boys.  The Cubbies are 3-7 at home and have been rocked for four or more runs on five different occasions already this season.  They are hitting just .243 with 3 homeruns and 36 RBI’s as a team at home.

Key Factor – Starlin Castro: The Cubs’ shortstop hit .500 the last time he met the Cardinals with 3 RBI’s, a double, two runs scored, and a stolen base in the series.  He’s hitting .375 in his last six games with two triples, a double, and three runs scored.

Player to Watch – Steve Clevenger: Having played a grand total of ten Major League games, Clevenger is still an unknown at this stage in his career.   Of the eight games he’s played this season, he played two in 2011, he is hitting .556 with four doubles, two RBI’s, and four runs scored.  Clevenger has hit safely in six of the eight games in which he’s made a plate appearance; this includes going 0-1 against the Cardinals on April 15th.  This utility, catcher-first baseman combo hit .407 in 25 games with the Cub’s AAA affiliate in Iowa last year; he knocked home 15 RBI’s with three homeruns, three doubles, one triple, and nine runs scored in that brief time spent in the Pacific Coast League.

Probable Pitchers

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jamie Garcia vs. Matt Garza

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Adam Wainwright vs. Jeff Samardzija

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lance Lynn vs. Chris Volstad




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