The Cardinals are coming to town today, which means now would be a PERFECT time for the Cubs to break through and finally win a series.  The Cards bring with them an 11-5 record, an NL-best +36 run differential, and a 4-game lead over the rest of the division.  But they’ve had some injury issues already–we still won’t see Fat Elvis Lance Berkman, who is now on the DL.  Can the Cubs string together enough hits to be competitive?  Will the Carlos Beltran continue to treat Wrigley Field like his home-away-from-home?  Can Rafael Furcal continue to defy age and reason for another year?  Will Joe Mather or Tony Campana get the starts in CF?  What can new reliever Michael Bowden do to help steady the Cubs’ shaky bullpen?  (And not that it matters to many of you, but can the Blackhawks win in regulation at home tonight and force a Game 7 against the Coyotes?  Because I’m about one more OT away from a heart attack.  Seriously.)

Probable Pitching Matchups and Scouting Reports

Monday at 7:05pm CT – Jaime Garcia vs. Matt Garza

Garcia brings 2 wins and a 3.06 ERA to Wrigley, but he has yet to throw 90 pitches in a game.  A little patience at the plate tonight might help us get past the Cardinals number two starter–who Jonah Keri considers one of the 10 most underrated players in the bigs–in his first start against the Cubs this season.  And since he’s St. Louis’ only lefty, expect Dale to go with a right-handed lineup tonight behind Garza.  With Dempster on the DL, Garza gives the Cubs their best chance to hold back the Cardinals’ offense.  Let’s assume the two 2-run bombs he gave up in Miami were an anomaly, and that he’ll be back to his usual lock-down self back in the Friendly Confines, where he’s only surrendered 2 runs in more than 14 innings of work this season.

Tuesday at 7:05pm CT – Adam Wainwright vs. Jeff Samardzija

The last time the Cubs saw Wainwright, they tattooed him for 8 runs on 7 hits and 2 walks over 3 innings.  I would be ecstatic if he could cough up another such performance tomorrow evening.  If he wasn’t a Cardinal, I’d have sympathy for him and his struggles returning from Tommy John surgery last year.  But he is, so I don’t.  He’s facing off against the converted pirate reliever, who has something to prove again after his last couple outings.  So far this season he looked great against the Nationals, sketchy against the Cardinals, and downright awful against the Marlins.  Considering the weakness of our relief pitching, if the Shark can’t go deeper into games with more success, he might eventually find himself back in the bullpen.

Wednesday at 1:20pm CT – Lance Lynn vs. Chris Volstad

Lance Lynn is another one of those infuriating, St. Louis-patented, come-out-of-nowhere surprises.  It was supposed to be a good thing that Chris Carpenter started the season on the DL.  Instead, Lynn pops out of the bullpen to become one of the league’s most dominant starters.  So far this season, he has surrendered 3 runs on 10 hits, or the equivalent of one or two innings of work for Volstad.  I expect this one to be ugly.  Like break-up-the-no-hitter-in-the-5th ugly.  It’s almost a mortal lock that Volstad will still be looking for his first win since last July 10 when he makes his next start.

Notes from the Enemy

Courtesy of Matt Philip from Fungoes

Jaime Garcia vs. Matt Garza

The lone lefty in the rotation, Garcia has started 2012 impressively, with a 2.83 FIP. His strikeout rate is a bit down (5.09 in 2012, 7.03 career) as is his groundball rate (45.6%, 54.5% career). The key has been that none of his flyballs have left the park, something he’ll have to be concerned about in Wrigley, where he hasn’t been as sharp (.350 OBPA).

Adam Wainwright vs. Jeff Samardzija

Although the Cubs pounded Adam Wainwright on opening day at Busch Stadium and he now has an unseemly 9.88 ERA in his first three starts of 2012, he has an expected Fielding-Independent Pitching of 3.18, lower than his career number. That’s in large part because he has been unlucky with fly balls (35.7% HR/FB; career: 8.1%) and runners left on base (46.7% LOB; career: 76.6%).

Lance Lynn vs. Chris Volstad

Lynn has been the team’s most pleasant surprise. Filling in for Chris Carpenter, the right-hander is second in the rotation with a 4.25 K/BB and leads in line-drive rate with a meager 13%.

Who’s hot

Shortstop Rafael Fucal has a .500 OBP over his last seven games.

What to watch for

Carlos Beltran enjoys the friendly confines of Wrigley, bashing Cub pitching over the years with a .488 OBP and .743 SLG. He has hit nine home runs in 122 plate appearances.

Odds and ends

The Cardinals will be without Lance Berkman, who went on the DL (backdated to Thursday, April 19). But Skip Schumaker has returned from his disabling.

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