It will be different when both teams are good again, but for now I see the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs' rivalry as operating a little like the one that crops up now and again in TV shows and movies between a hero and his wittiest, almost chummiest arch-nemesis. This week the Cardinals will chase the Cubs through a burning building, up the stairs, to the top of the tower, and then, having ideally lost all three games, the Cubs will say, smoothly—"But surely you didn't think I would go without fire insurance, after all these years?"—and leap into the waiting embrace of a black helicopter.
After all the theatrics inherent in the Cardinals' current spat with the Reds it's almost nice to see a series that is more about reliving old arguments than creating new ones; it's almost a relief to see Chris Carpenter and Carlos Zambrano, two old hands at yelling from the pitcher's mound, after Carp's more one-sided conversation with Hanley Ramirez.
The dual nature of the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry as Serious Business and "Serious Business" comes through in the MLB.com preview, which focuses on Ryan Theriot's spring remarks about being on the "right side" of the rivalry. On one hand, there's Carlos Zambrano's suggestion that Theriot is "the enemy now"; on the other there's manager Mike Quade, who says this:
"I put very little behind what anybody says, whether it's Ryan or anybody else.
"If we're concerned about what he's saying and we forget about [Matt] Holliday and [Lance] Berkman and [Albert] Pujols, we're in big trouble. That's minor stuff. You guys [the media] have fun with it."
The media, I guess, and the fans. This is what I like about the Cardinals and the Cubs—the participants can use their pro wrestlingest language without the legitimate fear of Johnny Cueto jumping Ryan Theriot with a steel chair.
The Cubs come into this week's series looking very much like a team in the unmapped middle of a rebuilding project. Would-be castoff Kosuke Fukudome leads the team in OPS, hitting .359/.468/.397; Alfonso Soriano is second and out personally to rebalance Fukudome's OBP-heavy line, hitting a platonically Sorianian .250/.273/.569 with 11 home runs, four walks, and 31 strikeouts. Tops in batting average are the exquisitely named Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro, who are each hitting an empty .300 but doing it, crucially, from the middle infield.
It's a team whose old players aren't quite good enough to contend and whose young players aren't quite numerous enough to cast off the old players. It's a less awkward replay of the position the Astros found themselves in, although I can't imagine the Cubs playing it quite so badly.
Of all that matchups this week I think I'm most interested in Matt Garza's first month-and-a-half with the Cubs, which seems like the ultimate BAbip nightmare. Garza's struck out 58 batters, walked 13, and allowed just one home run—he's basically been Shelby Miller, only against Major Leaguers.
On May 6 he struck out seven Cincinnati Reds, walked just two, and got 12 groundballs against just five fly balls. One was a home run; he allowed five earned runs on six hits and took the loss. In his first start with the team he struck out 12 Pirates without allowing a walk, somehow allowed 12 hits to the remaining 20 batters he faced, and took the loss.
Altogether he's 1-4 with an ERA of 4.43 and a BAbip of .402. Considering that his BAbips the last three years, all in the AL, were .271, .274, and .273, I can't exactly feel sorry about it, but I'm not sure the Cardinals should plan on it persisting.
And of course I'm always interested in Carlos Zambrano. Nothing else makes it quite as disappointing that Jim Edmonds had to retire; if this were a real pro wrestling match he would come out in street clothes before the first inning to make billy-goat noises and cut a promo that begins, "I must be in Chicago, because I can just smell the failure! Or maybe it's just this crowd!"