The Cardinals open a weekend series with the Cubs at Wrigley today with the scorching hot Adam Wainwright toeing the rubber against Cubs left-hander Travis Wood. It will be the Cards first trip to Wrigley in 2014, where they have a 22-24 record since 2008 (the last time the Cubs were in the playoffs). Here's what's on my mind heading in to this matchup:
Adam Wainwright hasn't allowed a run since April 12th. He hyperextended his knee two starts ago against New York and still came out and tossed eight innings of scoreless, three-hit ball against the Pirates last Sunday.
Wainwright is evolving every time he goes out there. He's become the Yadier Molina of pitching; he notices everything, and he remembers even more. He's throwing his fastballs with varying degrees of speed and cut. He's showing a decent curveball to guys early in an at-bat before dropping the hammer on them with the big twelve-sixer when he has two strikes. His preparation is unmatched and the bank of knowledge that he has accrued about his counterparts in the national league is paying dividends not only with his arm, but with his bat too, which he is using to batter opponents to the tune of a .775 OPS this year, albeit in a small sample size. With Clayton Kershaw only able to make one start in April, Adam could use his head start to finally corral the Cy Young award that has barely eluded him throughout his career.
Allen Craig may be turning a corner. He has a five-game hitting streak, his average has gone from an abysmal .170 to merely a bad .220, and he had a four hit game with 9 total bases in the finally of the Milwaukee series.
The Cardinals need to explore what kind of value they could get for Jon Jay.
Jay has been a solid, although unspectacular, in his 4+ seasons with the Birds, but he really just kind of has them in limbo right now. Peter Bourjos' potential is undeniable, but the jury is still out on weather or not he can be consistent enough to be more than a pinch runner or defensive replacement at this point. Oscar Taveras is tearing the cover off of the ball in Memphis, as he has done everywhere he's gone in his career, but the team is still trying to find out if he can play center field well enough to merit a call-up.
Taveras won't come up until he can be given every day at-bats, which would spell bench duty for Jay while Bourjos plays against left-handers. It's a bit of a quandary: two guys who have massive potential but carry big question marks vs. a guy who wont give you a ton of extra value, but will play good, consistent baseball. My money is on Taveras to have the job locked down by season's end, Jay to be the 4th outfielder, and Bourjos to be on his way out of town.
After slashing .336/.390/1.078 over 128 at-bats in half a minor league season in 2013, Cubs third-base prospect Kris Bryant is off to a torrid start in AA, where he is about two-and-a-half years younger than the average player in the Southern League. Bryant has five home runs and five stolen bases to go along with a .954 OPS. Bryant was the second overall draft pick in last year's amateur draft and could be a future cornerstone-player for the Cubs.
The Cardinals lineup could be on the brink of an explosion. Matt Adams is 8 for 26. Jhonny Peralta went 8 for 24 last week with two homers and two doubles. In that same timespan, Matt Holliday was 10 for 24 with three doubles, a homer, and six RBI. I already mentioned Craig. These bats are starting to click and I'm betting we see some balls flying on to Waveland Avenue this weekend with a weak set of Cubs arms taking the bump.
Stephen Nations is an aspiring sports and Cardinals columnist. He will be contributing his commentary to KSDK.com during the 2014 season. You can follow him on twitter at @Nayshface.