Wacha looks to continue strong September as Cardinals face Cubs
CHICAGO -- Michael Wacha has made sure he's ready for September.
So far, work put in by the right-hander has paid off with a 2-0 month. He has the opportunity for his third straight September victory on Saturday as the St. Louis Cardinals vie to close the gap on the National League Central-leading Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
"We prepare for September," he told reporters recently. "The world tells us that you should be tired at this time. But it's all the work you put in in the offseason and it's all the work you put in during the season that makes you feel good."
Wacha (12-7, 3.99 ERA) makes his 28th start of the season in Saturday afternoon's middle contest of a critical three-game series for both teams.
While he's been successful so far in the stretch drive, his efforts in August were less so.
Wacha went 2-3 last month while the Cardinals were 2-4 in his starts. He salvaged the month with a one-run, six-inning performance at San Francisco on Aug. 31.
On Sept. 5 he worked six innings against the San Diego Padres, allowing three earned runs on seven hits in an 8-4 victory. Last Sunday he struck out seven and tossed eight shutout innings as the Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-0.
"He was just special (against Pittsburgh)," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "Some of the best stuff we've seen."
Wacha is 4-5 in 12 career starts (14 appearances) against the Cubs. He's 1-3 with a 6.17 ERA in six career starts at Wrigley Field. His lone win came on June 22, 2016 as he threw 6 2/3 innings in a 7-2 Cardinals triumph.
He'll face Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks (6-5, 3.35 ERA), who makes his 22nd start of the season and 13th at home.
Hendricks is coming off a Sept. 10 loss to the Brewers in which he allowed three runs over six innings. He's 5-4 with a 2.91 ERA in his last 18 starts.
Hendricks, who has six straight quality starts, has allowed six or fewer hits in 20 of his 21 starts and has held right-handed batters to a .252 average and lefty batters to a .225 average.
He's 1-2 with a 4.02 ERA in eight career starts against the Cardinals and gave up four runs in four innings on June 4 against St. Louis, a 7-6 Cubs win in which he had no decision.
Hendricks told reporters this week that the priority for the Cubs is taking care of their own business.
"We're somewhat aware of where the teams are at," Hendricks said, "but it's not what we're focused on. We're focused on the field, what needs to be done, pitch to pitch. That's really where our focus is and where it's stayed. So two games, five games, whatever it is, it is. We have to win ballgames down the stretch. Period."
After Friday's 8-2 win over the Cardinals, the Cubs have a chance to open up a five-game lead on St. Louis with a victory on Saturday.