Pivotal Cardinals-Cubs series FAQ

September 19th, 2019

CHICAGO -- There isn't a greater battle for the postseason right now than the National League Central title and Wild Card berths, with four teams -- the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and Nationals -- fighting for three spots in the playoffs.

The Cards and Cubs will go head-to-head for seven of the final 10 games of the regular season. The first four will be this weekend, starting on Thursday at Wrigley Field. The final three games will be next weekend at Busch Stadium. The Cubs hold a 7-5 lead in the season series, and the Cards have yet to win a game at Wrigley Field.

The NL Central rivals usually meet in September for one of the final series of the season, but this will be the first year in recent memory they’ve faced each other so often in the final two weeks of the season with so much at stake.

In fact, this is the first time that the teams will face off as many as seven times over the final 10 games when both clubs were at the top of the division. They played seven of the final eight in 1951, and seven of the last 10 in 1950, but neither team was in contention those seasons.

The Cubs have been spoilers to the Cardinals’ postseason goals three of the previous four years. They knocked the Cards out of the playoffs in the NL Division Series in 2015 -- the last year that St, Louis was in the postseason. In '17 and '18, the Cubs won the series against the Cardinals the final week of the season to eliminate St. Louis from Wild Card contention.

Here’s what to expect this weekend:

What’s at stake?

This series will have a direct impact on the NL Central standings. Going into Thursday’s game, the Cardinals have a three-game lead in the division over the Cubs and Brewers, and Chicago is tied with Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. While the Cards and Cubs are jockeying for the division lead, the Brewers will host the Pirates for a three-game series.

When are the games?

Thursday: 6:15 p.m. CT on FOX

Friday: 1:20 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Midwest (Cardinals) and ABC 7 (Cubs)

Saturday: 1:20 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Midwest (Cardinals) and WGN (Cubs)

Sunday: 1:20 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Midwest (Cardinals) and NBC Sports Chicago (Cubs)

What are the likely lineups?

Cardinals: St. Louis has established its lineup over the last couple of weeks and has ran with it without many changes.

2. , 2B

5. , SS

7. , 3B

Cubs: Expect some mixing and matching, but this has been a common variation of the lineup in light of recent circumstances.

1. , 2B

3. , 3B

8. Nico Hoerner, SS

Who are the starting pitchers?

Cardinals: , one of the most dominant pitchers in the Majors since the All-Star break, will start the series opener on Thursday. Then, the Cards’ rotation lines up as follows: on Friday, on Saturday and on Sunday.

Cubs: Including an 81-pitch shutout back in May, has a 0.39 ERA in three turns against St. Louis this season. He will take the ball on Thursday night, followed by (Friday), lefty (Saturday) and (Sunday). Mills is making a spot start because was scratched with a sore left shoulder.

How will the bullpens line up after the starters?

Cardinals: Apart from a few hiccups, the Cards' bullpen has been largely effective this year. has emerged as the closer with or lefty poised as Martínez’s setup men. has been successful this season and he can carry an inning. has struggled with command recently, so his usage might be limited, especially in close games. The Cards have a variety of bullpen options that can be successful, but Gallegos, Miller, Brebbia and Martínez will likely be the go-to relievers.

Cubs: The North Siders activated from the injured list on Thursday. He has missed most of this month due to inflammation in his right elbow. Without Kimbrel, rookie has emerged as Chicago's main high-leverage arm, with lefty also being worked into key moments. Sidearmer is a heavily used, versatile setup option, too. Chicago also has lefties in , and . The crowded 'pen also has righties , , and . Righty is sidelined with a left oblique issue.

Are there any injuries of note?

Cardinals: St. Louis has had its share of injuries this season, but the Cards are healthy at the most important time of the season. Backup catcher was dealing with a left calf strain, but he was cleared to play earlier this week. Other than that, the Cardinals are in good shape.

Cubs: Injuries have been an issue all season and September has been especially cruel. The Cubs are without first baseman (sprained right ankle) and shortstop (hairline fracture in his left thumb). Báez is out for the rest of September. Rizzo likely is done for the regular season, too, but the Cubs have left the door open for a possible return. Shortstop (concussion) and Kintzler (left oblique) are also sidelined.

Who’s hot and who’s not?

Cardinals: Led by Flaherty, the starting rotation has been hot over the last month. It’s just a matter of if the offense will back the starter up that day. Goldschmidt is hitting .271 since Sept. 1, with 16 RBIs and 16 walks. Fowler (.371 OBP since Sept. 1) and Wong (.303 OBP) have stabilized the top of the lineup. But DeJong is hitting .167 with runners in scoring position since Sept. 1. After a 2.22 ERA first half, Gant has a 6.86 ERA post All-Star break. His dropoff has caused Cardinals manager Mike Shildt to rely on and move other relievers to limit Gant’s high-leverage usage.

Cubs: Even without Kimbrel, the bullpen headed into Wednesday with the Majors' best ERA (2.25) in September. Schwarber headed into Wednesday's action with 19 home runs since the All-Star break -- tied with Juan Soto for the most among lefty hitters in that span. Castellanos is trying to reach 60 doubles in a season, Bryant had five homers in an eight-game stretch entering Wednesday and Darvish has 27 strikeouts in his last two starts. Hamels had a 6.55 ERA in his last three outings (each lasting fewer than five frames) and Quintana has a 7.65 ERA in his last five turns.

What’s next?

As if this four-game series at Wrigley Field doesn't have enough pressure, the Cardinals and Cubs aren't done playing this season. They will part for four days -- with St. Louis facing the D-backs on Monday through Wednesday and the Cubs facing the Pirates on Monday through Thursday -- but will be back together to play the final series of the regular season next weekend at Busch Stadium.

Depending on what happens this weekend in Chicago, that final series could mean even more to each team's postseason hopes.