For the first time in 108 years, the Cubs will open up a season as the defending World Series champions. For the first time in Mike Matheny‘s tenure as manager of the Cardinals, they will open the season at home.
The Cardinals went 86-76 last year and finished 17.5 games behind their rival Cubs. After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, they added Dexter Fowler and Brett Cecil while securing their future in Carlos Martinez and locking up Yadier Molina who may now finish his career having worn only a Cardinals’ uniform.
The Cubs are not quite the same team that went 103-59 and won the World Series last year. The aforementioned Fowler left in free agency and joined the Cardinals. Also gone is Aroldis Chapman who played such a crucial part of the Cubs’ playoff run last season. In their place the Cubs have brought in former Cardinal Jon Jay and acquired Wade Davis from the Royals, but regardless, they’ve had a lot of talent walk out the door.
Time will tell just how much of a step back they’ll take and how the division will shape up, but the last team that had back-to-back 100-win seasons was the 2004-2005 Cardinals. Since then, there have been just six 100-win seasons, with teams averaging 90 wins the next season.
Game 1: Martinez v. Lester
Carlos Martinez, fresh off signing a 5 year extension with the Cardinals this winter, will make his first Opening Day for the Cardinals, facing off against Jon Lester. Martinez had a 1.38 ERA this spring over 13 innings for the Cardinals this spring, that book ended a 1.13 ERA over 8 innings for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. He was 1-3 with a 4.80 ERA in 5 starts against the Cubs last season. He has a 3.78 ERA over 36 starts and another 36 relief appearances in Busch Stadium in his career.
Opposite him will be Jon Lester making his sixth career Opening Day start and second for the Cubs. He has a 4.08 ERA on Opening Day. Lester made three starts for the Cubs this spring, posting a 5.73 ERA over 11 innings of work. At 33 years old, he is coming off a career year that saw him post a 2.44 ERA and win 19 games. He was 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA in 3 starts against the Cardinals last season. He has a 0.82 ERA in 3 starts in Busch Stadium in his career.
Game 2: Wainwright v. Arrieta
Perhaps coming in in the exact opposite situation of Martinez is the man he is attempting to supplant as the Cardinals’ ace, Adam Wainwright. Wainwright will take the ball in game two coming off the worst season of his career, going 13-9 with a 4.62 ERA last year. That didn’t correct itself this spring either as he posted a 7.78 ERA over about 20 innings of work. Wainwright was 1-1 with a 7.98 ERA in three starts against the Cubs last year. He has a 2.79 ERA over 129 career starts in the current Busch Stadium.
After his Cy Young campaign in 2015, Jake Arrieta looked a bit more human last year, but only a little bit. He was 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA for the Cubs last season. This spring he had a 5.79 ERA over 14 innings. He was 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA over 4 starts against the Cardinals last season. He is 1-1 with a 4.22 ERA in 4 starts in Busch Stadium.
Game 3: Lynn v. Lackey
Before this post went live this paragraph joked that the starter of the third game would be named Michael, either Leake, Wacha or Lynn. Since Lynn is Michael Lance Lynn. No really, he is. Google it.
Lynn will be returning to a big league mound for the first official time since Tommy John surgery after the 2015 season. He posted a 1.20 ERA over 15 innings this spring with a 0.93 WHIP. He is 6-6 with a 4.16 ERA in 14 starts against the Cubs in his career. Lynn is 34-17 with a 2.82 ERA over 62 starts and 10 relief appearances in Busch Stadium.
On the other end is former Cardinal John Lackey. He was 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA for the Cubs last season. He too struggled in spring training, posting a 6.39 ERA in almost 13 innings. He was 1-1 with a 2.03 ERA over 4 starts against the Cardinals last year. He is 12-4 with a 2.02 ERA over 24 career starts in Busch Stadium.
Who’s hot, who’s not
Cubs’ infielder Ian Happ finished with the fifth highest batting average in spring training this year, hitting .411/.469/.804 with 5 home runs, but he will start the season in the minors.
The Cardinals’ Jose Martinez, or ‘lil Tsunami as I’m calling him, was 8th, having hit .380/.508/.740 with 4 home runs, and made the team in the final bench spot as likely the fourth outfielder.
On the shelf
There will be four Cardinals on the MLB Disabled List to open up the season, but Trevor Rosenthal is the highest profile guy for the Cardinals there. We learned on Thursday afternoon that he would start the season on the DL after issues with his lat have returned. Sam Tuivailala was called up to take his place.
Brian Duensing is the only Cubs player on the DL to open up the season. He’s had back spasm issues.