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Monday, May 12, 2014
Top stats to know: Cubs at Cardinals

By Katie Sharp

The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals start a three-game series at Busch Stadium tonight (8 ET on ESPN), the third series between the NL Central rivals this season.

Here are some of the key storylines we'll be following tonight on Monday Night Baseball.

Cardinals aren't clutch
Coming off a World Series appearance and 97-win season, most people expected the Cardinals to contend for the NL pennant. Yet as we approach the quarter-pole of the season they are 19-19 and five games back of the Milwaukee Brewers in the division.

Their bats have really struggled early on, ranking 11th in the NL in both runs and OPS entering Monday's game.

Last season they led the league in runs and had the second-best OPS in the NL.

Much of last year's offensive success was fueled by a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position, a number that no other team in the last 40 years had ever matched. Regression has hit the Cardinals hard this season, as their .233 batting average with RISP ranks 19th in the majors in 2014.

Rizzo beats the shift
Anthony Rizzo last season had strong power numbers which included 23 homers and 40 doubles, becoming the youngest Cubs player ever with at least 20 home runs and 40 doubles in a season.

However, his batting average was just .233, brought down by a .258 batting average on balls in play that was the ninth-lowest in the majors last year.

That low BABIP could partly be explained by his inability to beat the shift. He hit just .143 on grounders and short liners against the shift last season, the fifth-lowest mark among players that saw at least 80 shifts in 2013.

This year he's still seeing a high number of shifts but he's done a much better job of beating them.

Rizzo is hitting .270 on short liners and grounders against shifts this year and already has as many hits on those plays as he did all of last season. He's raised his overall batting average to .285, including .303 on balls in play.

A closer look shows that Rizzo is hitting the ball up the middle more often this year, with nearly 37 percent of his balls put into play going to center compared to 27 percent last year.

Rizzo has made this transformation without sacrificing any power. He is on pace to hit more than 30 homers this season and his slugging percentage and isolated power numbers would both be career-highs.

Not an easy road for Wood
Travis Wood struggled his last time out against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, continuing a trend of poor road starts for the lefty.

Wood has lost his last four games away from Wrigley, with a 9.92 ERA in that span. He has more walks (10) than strikeouts (9) over those four outings and has failed to complete six innings in any of those games.

Facing the Cardinals might not help stop that streak. Wood's 4.90 ERA vs the Redbirds is his fourth-highest against any NL team, and he's won just one of five starts at Busch Stadium in his career.