Six months of games. 159 of them for each team to be exact. However, none of them really matter now. All of it comes down to six games over the next three days. Cubs and Cardinals for three; Brewers and Tigers for the other.
The Cubs and Brewers are locked in a fight for the NL Central Division crown. The Cubs are going for their third straight and the Brewers attempting to knock off the bully (admittedly, it’s weird that the Cubs have dominated this division for a few years now). The question I can’t get past though as I sit here slugging an unnecessary amount of Tito’s, is who would I rather be? The battle tested Cubs with a one game lead? Or the brimming with confidence Brewers chasing the big dog?
The North Siders have a three game set at Wrigley with one of my mortal enemies the St. Louis Cardinals. I am a firm believer that now, more than at any point in the season, starting pitching is the deciding factor. The guy who just won’t ever go away and has seemingly had seven straight years of surgery on a must-be bionic right arm at this point, Adam Wainwright, faces off with Kyle Hendricks Friday afternoon.
Hendricks has been at his best in September. 3-1; cut his season ERA from 3.77 to 3.49. The change-up has been nasty again. Calm like an assassin, Hendricks is the guy I am most confident in for the Cubs to come out and shut a good team down. For Waino, I would have no issue with this being the last start of his career.
It feels like he’s murdered the Cubs for the better part of my lifetime and it needs to end. It’s time. On Saturday we’ll see Miles Mikolas, 17-4 with a 2.94 ERA going up against Cole Hamels. Mikolas has had a ridiculously good year after spending the last few seasons attempting to regain his command in Japan.
Coming off a great season for the Yomiuri Giants, Mikolas has been everything the Cards could’ve hoped for and more. Solid all season and extremely affordable. Hamels was brutal for the Rangers early on in 2018. So much so they gave him to the Cubs in a deadline deal that cost the Cubs a low-level prospect. And it worked out perfectly. Hamels has been a rock for the Cubs since the late July trade.
The veteran lefty has seemed reinvigorated since joining a pennant race displaying good life on his fastball and regaining the change-up that established him as one of the better lefties over the last 10 years. Finally on Sunday afternoon we’ll see Jack Flaherty, the Cards best young pitcher and the Cubs worst starter – Mike Montgomery. Don’t get me wrong – I love Mike Montgomery. But he’s best suited not to be pitching the most important game of the regular season (despite finishing off the longest World Series drought in baseball history – reason No. 1 why I love Mike Montgomery).
This is the pitching match-up that makes me want to drink heavier than normal. Flaherty has the type of stuff that can frustrate the hell out of a good lineup let alone what he could to with one that has already had trouble scraping together runs in various stretches all season long. The other factor though is the Cards are battered. Worn out from getting dragged by the Brewers at home no less, St. Louis is clinging to the last shred of 2018.
An enemy on the ropes, albeit a very desperate one can make for a dangerous foe this weekend though. The Cubs can end it for them. Bury your long time rival. Nothing better in sports than that.
It’s great to see a long time rivalry decide so much on the last weekend of the season. The Brewers on the other hand get to face their hated nemesis…the Detroit Tigers. The 64 win Detroit Tigers. Side note – I am all for inter-league play but what the hell are the Brewers and Tigers facing each other for right now? There is zero reason MLB doesn’t have solely intra-division games throughout the final week of the season.
It essentially can add a week of playoff baseball to the calendar in a lot of cases. Instead, let’s look at the three pitching match-ups sure to set this the baseball world on fire – Jordan Zimmerman and Zach Davies on Friday. Davies is okay. Better than his 2-7 record indicates (I swear I am not laughing as I typed that sentence), Davies does at least have a sub-five ERA to pair with the dazzling record, although he has missed a good chunk of the season with a shoulder injury.
Zimmerman really hasn’t been very good since coming to Detroit after spending the early years of his career in Washington. Daniel Norris and Wade Miley bring us the action on Saturday night. Miley has been much better in 2018 with a 5-2 record and 2.32 ERA compared to his run in 2015 and 2016 going 10-20 with an ERA approaching six over two horrendous seasons in Baltimore. He can obviously be had though, even by an uninspiring Detroit offensive attack.
Norris is a guy who was always talked about making the leap to becoming a front end of the rotation starter but it really has just never materialized for the lefty. Still only 25, he has shown flashes at times but never really been able to put together a type of consistent run as this point that makes you think he has it. Sunday’s match-up isn’t set yet but Spencer Turnbull is expected to toe the rubber for Detroit. Yep – THE Spencer Turnbull. The Tigers are young. They have guys fighting to show they deserve roster spots next year. On the other hand, the Brewers are hot. And talented. And loaded with confidence. And the Tigers suck.
So again…as I sit here shortly after the Cubs beat Pittsburgh 3-0 to salvage a split of the four game series, who would you rather be now? The Cubs – who hold a one game lead over Milwaukee, facing a battered and bruised but also desperate rival, fighting for the last Wild Card spot in the NL? Facing their top two starters and a guy who has killed you multiple times over a fantastic career? Or the Brewers – DOWN a crucial game to the experienced winners, but facing a far more inferior opponent? How key is that one game lead?
If the Cardinals are the team that faced Milwaukee earlier this week, the Cubs can sweep them as well and coast to another division title. There’s a feeling of once a playoff contender is dead, especially this late in the season they usually tend to mail it in and a Cardinal loss on Friday could be the nail in the coffin.
Detroit, despite lacking in overall talent is made up in large part of 40 younger players fighting to show they deserve a spot next April in Detroit or on some other MLB roster. They have been out of the race for a while. They are able to embrace being a spoiler at this point, something good and even decent teams don’t commonly do when they finally bow out of a race. That does create a potential spot for the Brewers to choke away a game or two. It’s definitely best then to be in the Cubs shoes, right? That one game lead that was once much larger not all that long ago is huge, right?
Of course it’s better to be Milwaukee here. The Tigers are trash and the Brewers are at home. The Cardinals are the Cardinals and they are desperate as all hell. The Cubs bullpen is so depleted and so shaky right now that it seems like too much to ask of them holding up unblemished for three days in such a high pressure setting. I see the Cubs taking two of three and the Brewers sweeping the Tigers in Miller Park this weekend. This scenario will also give us one more game to settle it on Monday. One more chance to string this race along that should’ve been over by now. Brewers – Cubs for the NL Central crown.
Follow Matt on Twitter–Featured Photo Credit: AP