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Series Opponent Preview: Chicago Cubs

The Good: The 38-53 5th-place Cubs are terrible. The postseason is out of reach, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza may be dealt any day, and Chicago is 14-32 on the road this year. The Cubbies have a -49 run differential away from Wrigley Field and are 10-17 in one-run games. Chicago’s offense is its biggest weakness, ranking 29th in runs, 28th in OBP, 22nd in slugging percentage, and 19th in batting average. The pitching isn’t much better, placing 24th in ERA and 23rd in WHIP. Cubs pitchers walk an NL-high 3.74 batters per game while striking out only 7.11 batters per game, 2nd-worst in the NL. Cubs relievers contribute -1.1 wins above replacement, good for last in the NL. Overall, this team is young, inexperienced, and in complete rebuilding mode.

The Bad: First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro are studs. Both are top young talents who have futures as two of the top hitters in the NL. Also, Dempster and his NL-leading 1.86 ERA seem to be staying in Chicago long enough to face the Cards tonight. Dempster has thrown 33 straight scoreless innings and is auditioning for a new club, meaning that the Cardinals are matched up with a motivated pitcher who is having the season of his life.

The X-Factor: Dempster and Garza, slated to start tonight and tomorrow respectively, have both been involved in trade rumors for several weeks. As the July 31st deadline approaches, it will be interesting to see how both handle the trade speculation. Will the starters be distracted or highly motivated? Will they be pitching for themselves and the scouts, or for their 5th-place teammates? How both handle the increased pressure will largely dictate how this series turns out for the Cardinals.

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