A new season arrives for the revamped Chicago Cubs on Sunday night, but whether it’s the proverbial “next year” Cubs fans have been waiting for is yet to be seen. The hopeful Cubs start the 2015 campaign by hosting a St. Louis team that has been the class of the National League Central in recent years.
St. Louis is aiming for its fifth straight trip to the NL Championship Series and its third consecutive division crown. Several members of Chicago’s crop of talented, young players have arrived on the North Side, though some — including slugger Kris Bryant — will be coming along later this season, prompting high hopes for a beleaguered fan base. The Cubs’ biggest offseason signing also will be on display with ace left-hander Jon Lester making his debut with the club after inking a $155 million deal this offseason. The Cardinals’ focus in the offseason was upgrading the offense, which they hope to have done by adding outfielder Jason Heyward, who has eight home runs in 30 career games against the Cubs.
TV: 8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN2
LINE HISTORY: Initially the Cubs opened at +100 at most books before climbing slightly to -105. Ever since it’s been back between those two points.
WEATHER FORECAST: Winds are expected to gust upwards of 14 mph blowing towards centerfield. The skies are expected to be partly cloudy with the temperature around 50°F to 58°F.
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “The always steady Cardinals should be just that again this season. The Cubs have grabbed a lot of the headlines but the Cards are still the team to beat in the N.L. Central. Most believe the Cubs were the big offseason winners but time will tell whether they can regain some respectability let alone return to contention.” – Covers Expert Sean Murphy
PITCHING MATCHUP: Cardinals RH Adam Wainwright (2014: 20-9, 2.38 ERA) vs. Cubs LH Jon Lester (2014: 16-11, 2.46)
Wainwright is coming off the second 20-win season of his career in which he matched his career-high with five complete games and tossed a career-best three shutouts. He made only three starts in the spring because of an abdominal strain but was effective, allowing five earned runs in 14 1/3 innings. The 33-year-old has had mixed results against the Cubs over the years, going 11-7 with a 4.09 ERA, but he has tossed 14 scoreless innings over the past two meetings, winning both.
Chicago’s new ace was limited to 8 1/3 innings over three starts in spring training after missing a start because of arm fatigue, so his pitch count will be limited. Lester is coming off a strong 2014 in which he posted a career-best ERA in 32 starts between Boston and Oakland. Lester is pitching in the National League for the first time in his career, but he has fared well against the Senior Circuit, going 15-7 with a 3.06 ERA in 29 career starts in interleague play.
*Cardinals are 54-26 in Wainwrights last 80 starts.
*Over is 13-5-1 in the last 19 meetings.
*Cardinals have gone under in their past three Opening Day games
*Cubs are 1-4 in their past five Opening Day games