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Cardinals/Cubs

With the series knotted at one, the Cubs bring their ace to the mound as the Cardinals counter with an arm who’s struggled against the North Siders’ lineup of late.

St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha) at Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta), 6:07 p.m. Eastern

PECOTA odds of winning: 58% Cubs, 42% Cardinals

Projected Starting Lineups

Cardinals vs. Arrieta (R)

Cubs vs. Wacha (R)

Matt Carpenter (L) 3B

Dexter Fowler (S) CF

Stephen Piscotty (R) RF

Kyle Schwarber (L) LF

Matt Holliday (R) LF

Kris Bryant (R) 3B

Jason Heyward (L) CF

Anthony Rizzo (L) 1B

Jhonny Peralta (R) SS

Starlin Castro (R) 2B

Brandon Moss (L) 1B

Jorge Soler (R) RF

Yadier Molina (R) C

Miguel Montero (L) C

Kolten Wong (L) 2B

Jake Arrieta (R) P

Michael Wacha (R) P

Addison Russell (R) SS

Injuries/Availability: Molina’s thumb has been a topic of discussion during the playoffs, especially after he looked bad at the plate in Game One. However, the Cardinals leader looked much better on Saturday night, ripping a single to the opposite field and driving another hard-hit ball in a previous at-bat in a 1-for-3 night. Matt Holliday has also looked more comfortable at the plate after spending most of September struggling while working his way back from a hamstring injury.

Both bullpens were used quite a bit on Saturday, but with the off day, it’s unlikely any key pieces will be unavailable. With Arrieta on the mound for the Cubs, it’ll take quite a bit for Maddon to even call over to his ‘pen any earlier than the eighth inning.

Outlook: Neither lineup should be etched in stone, as both managers have already used a variety of players to start games off in the playoffs. Tommy Pham has been hitting the ball well and could find himself getting his first playoff start, and Mark Reynolds was launching balls all over and out of Wrigley during Sunday’s workout. It’s expected to be a windy day in Chicago once again, so Mike Matheny may want to take advantage of Reynolds’ power while he can.

Austin Jackson started each of the last two times the Cubs faced Wacha, but that could just be the randomness of Maddon wanting to get Fowler a day off during the regular season, or perhaps there’s something the Cubs skipper likes about the matchup. The lefty La Stella could be in there as well, but we know Maddon likes Castro against Wacha, Bryant certainly isn’t sitting, and the assumption here is that the Cubs will want to keep Soler’s bat in the lineup after a big Saturday and make sure Schwarber is back in there as well.

As far as the game goes, on paper this looks like a big mismatch, and PECOTA agrees. The Cardinals haven’t faced Arrieta since July 7th, and while the Cy Young contender was still impressive back then, he hadn’t really hit his second-half stride. That should be an advantage for the big righty.

Arrieta remembers how crazy Wrigley was when St. Louis came to town in mid-September. The intensity of the home crowd will only be amplified in the playoffs, and after taking two of three in each of the last two series the Cubs have had with the Cardinals, their confidence is at an all-time high.

“We know we can play with anybody, and I think we're a pretty scary team for anybody to play right now,” Arrieta said on Sunday. “We've got nothing to lose. We're playing well. We've got a lot of young guys with a lot of tremendous energy. You know, I don't think our young players are fazed by October at all; I really don't. You see the plays that Addison has made at shortstop, you see the things that Schwarber has been able to do. IN the wild card game in the first inning, that huge base hit to score Dexter put us on the board in the first, just kind of swung the momentum in our favor, so I think we're going to be tough to beat. We know St. Louis is a great club. They have been for a long time. We have a lot of respect for them. But I like our chances.”

And if you’ve been paying attention to how the Cubs have handled Wacha of late, you should too. In late June, Wacha shut down the Cubs bats, allowing just one run in six innings. Just two weeks later, he was cruising with a 4-0 lead in the fourth. But the Chicago offense woke up in that inning, scoring two runs, and then chased Wacha a few innings later by putting up a three spot. Since then, the Cubs have seemed to have the young Cardinal’s number.

Date

IP

H

ER

BB

K

HR

Pitches

9/8/15

4

6

6

3

2

2

87

9/19/15

5

6

4

4

7

2

104

Outside of the seven strikeouts in the second start, nothing from those lines looks particularly appealing. The Cubs jumped on Wacha early in both starts, and though both games ended up closer than they probably should have been (8-5 and 5-4 wins by the Cubs), in neither game did the Cardinals have to face Arrieta.

But we’ve seen great starters have problems on the mound in the playoffs before. Clayton Kershaw has dominated an entire season then struggled against these very Cardinals. David Price may have been the hottest pitcher down the stretch outside of Arrieta, and he faltered against Texas just a few days ago. We know weird things can happen in the playoffs, and Arrieta does as well.

“I think that your weaknesses and your mistakes are exposed at a level maybe slightly above where they would be in the regular season,” Arrieta pointed out when asked about aces struggling in October. “Everybody's attention to detail, everybody's focus is at such a high level that when those little mistakes are made, the opposing lineups are able to capitalize on it, and a lot of the times, you know, David and Clayton, their stuff is so tremendous that they'll get away with mistakes. But it's a little bit different in October. It seems like everybody is in that sweet—their mentality is in that sweet spot where nothing—they're not really fazed by anything. Sometimes it happens with momentum changes in the game, the atmosphere, the crowd noise, but everybody is pretty locked in at this point in the season. And that's why the good teams still remain.”

If there’s a team that’s capable of shocking everyone and making the completely unexpected happen, it’s certainly the Cardinals. But the Cubs aren’t about to just chalk this one up as a victory. They’re not looking forward to a possible clincher on Tuesday; as cliché as it is, they’ve been adamant about focusing on only the game that awaits them on that day. It’s been Maddon’s mantra all season. The Cardinals won’t be walked over in October, but they’ll face an uphill challenge on Monday evening. —Sahadev Sharma

Dodgers/Mets

Game Two featured another fantastic pitching duel that was overshadowed by the controversial slide by Chase Utley that fractured Ruben Tejada’s fibula and allowed the Dodgers to break the game open and even the series. As the series shifts to Citi Field, the Mets will have the clear advantage on the mound for the first time, when Matt Harvey toes the rubber opposite Brett Anderson.

Los Angeles Dodgers (Brett Anderson) at New York Mets (Matt Harvey), 8:37 p.m. Eastern.

PECOTA odds of winning: 66% Mets, 34% Dodgers

Projected Starting Lineups

Dodgers vs. Harvey (R)

Mets vs. Anderson (L)

Howie Kendrick (R) 2B

Curtis Granderson (L) RF

Corey Seager (L) SS

David Wright (R) 3B

Adrian Gonzalez (L) 1B

Yoenis Cespedes (R) CF

Justin Turner (R) 3B

Daniel Murphy (L) 2B

Andre Ethier (L) RF

Travis d’Arnaud (R) C

Carl Crawford (L) LF

Lucas Duda (L) 1B

Yasmani Grandal (S) C

Michael Cuddyer (R) LF

Enrique Hernandez (R) CF

Wilmer Flores (R) SS

Brett Anderson (L) P

Matt Harvey (R) P

Injuries/Availability: Major League Baseball suspended Chase Utley for two games following his takeout slide of Ruben Tejada in Game Two, with Joe Torre, the league’s chief baseball officer, saying in a statement that he believes that the slide was in violation of Rule 5.09 (a) (13). It appears that the league will try to expedite the appeal hearing so that it can be decided before the start of Monday’s game. If Utley’s suspension is upheld, the Dodgers will only have 24 players available while he is out.

Utley has historically done well against Harvey, which has prompted speculation that Mattingly could pencil him into the lineup over Howie Kendrick if the suspension ends up being overturned. If that happens, all eyes will be on whether the Mets put a baseball between Utley’s shoulder blades at some point during the game. With Game Two already grabbing headlines for the wrong reasons, we can only hope that further drama doesn’t dominate Monday’s critical Game Three.

Yasiel Puig came in as a defensive replacement for Carl Crawford in the eighth inning of Game Two and should remain a bench option for Mattingly in Game Three with the right-handed Harvey pitching. Mattingly hinted coming into the series that Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Ellis would both see time behind the plate, due in part to the nagging shoulder injury that cost Grandal a week in September. Following a day of rest, you’d expect Grandal to get the nod with a right-hander pitching, but that’s subject to change. Additionally, both Terry Collins and Don Mattingly should have their entire bullpens at their disposal following the travel day.

With Ruben Tejada out for the rest of the postseason, the Mets responded by adding Matt Reynolds to the roster. If the 24-year-old sees game action this October, he will be the first player since Mark Kiger in 2006 to make his major-league debut in the postseason. Despite having never played for the big-league club, Reynolds was the most logical choice in the upper minors to serve as the backup to Wilmer Flores, as Dilson Herrera has never gotten an extended look at shortstop and Wilfredo Tovar is on the 60-day disabled list.

As for Flores, the Mets will take a hit defensively at shortstop (although advanced metrics weren’t fond of Tejada this season) but shouldn’t miss a beat offensively. Flores has actually fared better against lefties than Tejada over the course of their careers. Tejada’s gruesome injury was an emotional blow for the Mets and thins out the bench, but Flores should be able to provide similar value in the starting lineup.

After Michael Cuddyer’s adventures in left field in Game One and Michael Conforto’s performance at the plate in Game Two, Terry Collins has considered going with the rookie in left field for Game Three, even with a left-hander on the mound. Juan Lagares is also in the mix to get the start in center, which would push Cespedes to left field.

Outlook:

In the wake of the debacle surrounding Utley and Tejada, it’ll be monitoring whether the umpiring crew issues any pregame warnings. For what it’s worth, neither Harvey nor Anderson makes his living pounding the inner part of the plate, but the last thing anyone wants to see is for a missed target inside to result in a premature ejection.

The Mets may wish that the last three innings of Game Two had gone differently, but coming into the series, they would have gladly taken a split on the road against two of the game’s best pitchers. The depth of their rotation really comes into focus in the next two games, with Harvey on the mound for Game Three and Steven Matz slated to take the ball in Game Four. Despite the previous drama concerning Harvey’s innings limit, he’ll be unrestricted in the first playoff game ever played at Citi Field and is already talking about pitching in relief in a potential Game Five. The right-hander didn’t display his 2013-level dominance in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, but he was still a top-of-the-rotation workhorse and finished 19th among starting pitchers in WARP.

The Dodgers will counter with Anderson, who completed his first fully healthy season since 2009 and was the team’s most reliable starting pitcher behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Anderson’s extreme groundball tendencies reached a new high this season, with his 66% rate pacing all qualified starters, nearly five percentage points ahead of Dallas Keuchel. That said, DRA pegs Anderson as a roughly league-average starter in 2015, giving Harvey the edge and explaining the hosts’ two-in-three chance to go up 2-1. —Chris Mosch