After a dominant outing by John Lackey in Game 1, and help from Cardinal errors in Game 2, the Cubs find themselves tied 1-1 with the Cardinals in a best of 5 NLDS heading into Game 3 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs seem to be in the driver seat, as they put ace and NL Cy Young award candidate Jake Arrieta on the mound against a struggling Micheal Wacha. The last time Micheal Wacha threw a postseason pitch, Travis Ishakawa hit a moon shot out to deep right field for a 3-run walk off homer to end the Cardinals season and send the Giants to the World Series. Now a year removed. Wacha looks to put away his September struggles against a team that has gave him headaches in his young career.
The tale of two Septembers
In 5 September starts, 2 against the Cubs, Wacha failed to make it past 6 innings, and had a 7.88 ERA in only 24 innings pitched. In his 2 starts against the Cubs, Wacha only managed to throw 9 total innings, owning a whopping 10.oo ERA, while allowing 6 hits in each start 4 of which left the yard. Arrieta on the other hand, had one of the best Septembers in MLB history. In 5 September starts, Arrieta put up a .39 ERA, only giving up 2 earned runs. In those 5 starts, Arrieta went 8 innings 3 times, 9 once to notch his 20th win against the Brewers, and 7 the other time. The last time Arrieta loss, it took a Cole Hamels no-hitter to beat him.
What happened to the Wacha we once knew? Just 2 years ago, Wacha won NLCS MVP, after going 2-0 while blanking the Dodgers twice against Clayton Kershaw, including the series clincher in game 6. Wacha started out the 2015 season on a good note, posting sub 3 ERA’s in both April and May, but then the wheels fell off. Between May and September, Wacha’s horizontal release point dropped nearly half a foot, going from -0.75 to around -0.20, meaning he started stepping more towards first than towards the plate. Looking at video via fangraphs from a May 8 start compared to his last start on September 30th, Wacha almost looks like he is throwing at an imaginary box behind the left handed batters box, instead of at the plate. What this does is cause his hip to fly open, making it easier to leave balls up over the middle of the plate. These are simple fixes in Wacha’s mechanics, but don’t expect him to be able fix them in 11 days.
- The road only gets tougher going into Wrigley Monday afternoon. In 11 IP at Wrigley this season, Wacha posted a 7.36 ERA while allowing 13 hits. And boy do the Cubs love to see him. 5 of the Cubs potential starters hit above .300 against Wacha in their career including 6 home runs, 2 a piece by Rizzo and Castro, who also lead the team in batting average against Wacha.
- As we all know, the wind usually is a big offensive hurdle when playing at the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. With tomorrow’s forcast, they are calling for sunny skies and a breeze blowing out to left. This will have a huge impact on the game, as Wacha gives up fly balls 34.5% of the time, compared to 22.8% by Arrieta. This could mean the Cubs could be sending a few over the walls early while Wacha is still in there.
- Wacha’s best pitch is his change-up. When on, it is one of the hardest pitches to hit, and he throws in 2nd most of his 4 pitches, at 14.7%, only behind his fastball. But in 2015, when Wacha has used his change-up, it has lead to -.04 runs above average. If he can’t get his change-up to be effective, look for the Cubs to do some damage against him.
- Starlin Castro. Castro who will probably hit 5th in the lineup, looks to continue his success off Wacha who he has owned in his career to a tune of a .455 batting average with 2 home runs and 7 RBI’s.
- Matt Carpenter is a career .000 against Jake Arrieta, going 0-16 off of his old college teammate.
Now to the other guy on the mound. Coming off of a complete game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in a do or die Wild Card game, Jake Arrieta looks to give the Cubs a 2-1 series lead over their division rivals from Missouri. In his 2 starts against St Louis at Wrigley this season, Arrieta has thrown 13 & 2/3 innings, posting a stellar 1.36 ERA while only allowing 10 hits. Does this surprise you? Arrieta has only given up 4 earned runs since the beginning of August, and the last time he didn’t record a quality start, Kyle Schwarber had yet to hit his first career home run as he gave up 4 runs against Cleveland. Arrieta, unlike Wacha, has silenced Cardinal bats in his career, with the best average coming from clean up hitter Jason Heyward. The Cardinals have a knack for beating opposing aces in October, beating Kershaw twice in 2013, Kris Medlen in the 2012 Wild Card Game, and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in the 2011 NLDS. But Arrieta is still confident he has what it takes to go out and beat the Birds, despite them being ace killers.
Here is my Cubs projected lineup for Game 3 vs Wacha-
Dexter Fowler 8- .400
Jorge Soler 9- .400
Kris Bryant 5- .300
Anthony Rizzo 3-.455
Starlin Castro 4-.455
Kyle Schwarber 7- No Plate Appearances
Miguel Montero 2-..133
Addison Russell 6-.000
Jake Arrieta 1-.000
Prediction- Cubs 6 Cardinals 1
I look for the Cubs to get to Wacha early, and give Arrieta a lead to work with, eventually giving the Cubs a commanding 2-1 lead with a chance to clinch in Game 4 at home.