Preview: Cubs at Cardinals

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[April 02, 2017]  The curse is over, but the rivalry only has intensified. The world champion Chicago Cubs begin their title defense Sunday night with the opener of a three-game series against the host St. Louis Cardinals.

The National League Central rivalry has been among the most bitter in baseball over the years, and it only has grown stronger as the Cubs have risen to the top of a division once dominated by the Cardinals. A new layer was added to the rivalry in the offseason, with Dexter Fowler – a key player in the Cubs’ run to their first World Series title in 108 years – signing a five-year deal with St. Louis over the winter. It’s the second straight year that a high-profile free agent has switched sides in the rivalry, as Jason Heyward jilted the Cardinals to sign with Chicago prior to the 2016 season. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has turned to an unexpected source to fill Fowler’s leadoff spot as he will use slugger Kyle Schwarber to set the table for a lineup that includes stars Anthony Rizzo and reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant, among others.

TV: 8:35 p.m. ET, ESPN

PITCHING MATCHUP: Cubs LH Jon Lester (2016: 19-5, 2.44 ERA) vs. Cardinals RH Carlos Martinez (2016: 16-9, 3.04)

Lester will make his second Opening Day start for the Cubs as he looks to pick up where he left off during an outstanding 2016 campaign. The 33-year-old finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting and was the MVP of the NL Championship Series. Lester is 3-3 with a 1.97 ERA in nine career starts against St. Louis, a team he dominated last season by going 2-0 and allowing two earned runs over 20 2/3 innings in three outings.

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Martinez saw his strikeout rate drop from 9.2 per nine innings in 2015 to eight last season, but the 25-year-old Dominican still posted 20 quality starts and won a career-best 16 games. Martinez will be the youngest Opening Day starter for St. Louis since Joe Magrane in 1989. The Cubs have had success against Martinez, who is 3-3 with a 4.67 ERA in 19 games (nine starts) versus Chicago.


1. The Cardinals and C Yadier Molina reportedly are working to finalize a three-year contract extension worth between $55-65 million. Since 2011, St. Louis is 458-322 when Molina starts and 93-99 when he does not.

2. Bryant is just 3-for-19 with eight strikeouts against Martinez, but Heyward is 7-for-17 and Rizzo 7-for-26 with three homers.

3. St. Louis 1B Matt Carpenter has struggled against Lester, going 5-for-33 with eight strikeouts.

PREDICTION: Cubs 3, Cardinals 2

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