The 92-54 or 91-55, depending on the outcome of Thursday's game, Cardinals are slated to take on the 84-61 Cubs for a three game set at Wrigley. While the Cardinals fight to stay ahead of the Pirates, the Cubs are fighting to catch them in the hopes of obtaining that coveted home-field advantage in the Wild Card play-in game that the Pirates have held the past two years. This series will be crucial for both teams and promising to be exciting in what was already a compelling rivalry.
Graciously here to talk some Cardinals-Cubs baseball with me is the founder and long-time site manager of Bleed Cubbie Blue, Al Yellon. Be sure to stop by BCB to see what Al and his fellow writers are up to! Also head over there at 8:00am Central (the best time zone) to read what I had to say about the Cardinals!
Viva el Birdos: So first of all, Al, I want to ask you something that has been on my mind for awhile now. As an Illinoisan myself (west-central Illinois), I find myself explaining from time-to-time that while yes, I am from Illinois, I am a Cardinals fan because I live much, much closer to St. Louis than Chicago (I have actually never been to Chicago!). The follow-up question is usually something along the lines of "Where is the Cubs/Cardinals split, then?" and honestly, I have no idea - I believe the common answer is Interstate 72, but that seems too far south. So, as a Cubs-fan extraordinaire, where would you say the split is?
Bleed Cubbie Blue: The common feeling, I think, among Cubs fans is that the dividing line is somewhere around Peoria, I-74, which is somewhat north of I-72. Peoria has gone back and forth between having a Cardinals affiliate in the Midwest League and a Cubs affiliate for the last 20 years, with the Cardinals now being the affiliated team. I know that's made a lot of BCB Cubs fans very upset, because they enjoyed watching Cubs prospects in Peoria and won't go watch Cardinals prospects.
And there you have a summary of the rivalry in one paragraph.
VEB: I feel pretty puke-tasticly excited about the possibility of this rivalry heating up in a potential postseason series (NO JINX). On one hand, I think it would be a lot of fun, and great for baseball, but on the other, I reealllly do not want the Cardinals to lose to the Cubs. Do Cubs fans share that sort of sentiment, or are y'all primarily focused on the Pirates at this point? Do you have any thoughts on the current playoff structure? It seems sort of unfair.
BCB: Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said the other day that he proposed a best-of-three wild-card series that would start with a day/night doubleheader for the first two games. Now that would be pretty interesting, wouldn't it? I wonder if something like that might eventually happen.
The one-and-done game does seem somewhat unfair, especially this year where the three best teams seem to be in the N.L. Central. But two teams that won that game last year went to the World Series, so ... if you get in, anything can happen.
Right now the Cubs are focused on catching the Pirates, which still seems like a longshot, four games back as of Wednesday morning.
Personally, I was really hoping for a Cubs/Cardinals NLCS back in 2004, when the Cardinals ran away with the division. But the Cubs blew a sure wild-card spot and it didn't happen.
A Cubs/Cardinals playoff series would be epic. I'd love to see it.
On a personal note, as unfair as I think the playoff structure seems now with the three best teams looking to come from the same division, I loooove the Wild Card play-in game. I think the single elimination-high stakes aspect is fantastic. That said, I do like the idea Al brings up. I am always up for more baseball!
VEB: A large part of the renewed strength of the rivalry seems to be due to the Cubs front office completely reinventing the team. The Cubs have been in a rebuilding mode for the past few years, and while the process seemed to be long and arduous, the organization and fans are starting to reap the rewards. What do think is the next step for Theo Epstein and the Cubs?
BCB: This year has been seen by many Cubs fans as a "bonus" year because many didn't see the Cubs contending until 2016 at the earliest. But the signings of Joe Maddon and then Jon Lester sent the sign that the team was serious. This year has been a real bonus, too, in the maturing of young players like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell, who could be among the team leaders for many years to come. That's really the next step, to have these players and others in the pipeline continue to mature into major league stars.
VEB: Along those same lines, one of the greatest and evilest things Theo has done been acquiring Kris Bryant. He is such a doll with his .215 ISO and his good defense and his pretty, blue eyes. He currently leads all NL rookies in fWAR at 5.3. What do you think about his Rookie of the Year chances?
BCB: At this point I think Bryant is the likely Rookie of the Year. I know Cardinals fans were promoting Randal Grichuk (I uhh... don't know what you are talking about, Al), but he's missed too much time with injuries. Matt Duffy of the Giants and Jung Ho Kang of the Pirates and Noah Syndergaard of the Mets have all had good rookie years, but I think Bryant's power numbers and good defense at 3B will get him the honor.
Plus this is so dad gum adorable:
*sighs* They are like sapphires... *coughs* Moving on!
VEB: I try to end these things with some sort of prediction, so what do you think? My guess is about seven dingers are hit, Randy Choate walks Rizzo once, and one game is a total blowout (not sure which way).
BCB: As you probably know, wind at Wrigley Field can be a huge factor. It's been windy and warm in Chicago this week and it should be that way at least for part of Friday, so you could see a homer-fest that day, especially with Dan Haren going for the Cubs.
Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be cooler with the wind blowing in, so those games could be lower-scoring. The Cubs have been in something of a rotation crunch, so Saturday could be a "bullpen day" with several long relievers taking turns on the mound. Sunday you'll see Jon Lester, and you know what he did to the Cardinals in St. Louis last week.
I'd love to see the Cubs take two of three, but it will be tough. This is a great rivalry made better when both teams are good. The Cardinals are a very good team. I'd love nothing better than to take them down in a playoff series.
Speaking of Dan Haren, look at this bro-tastic picture I found of him via USA Today
A huge thanks goes out to Al for taking the time to answer my ridiculous questions! Again, check out Bleed Cubbie Blue to get all the info you need on the enemy!
Fri. 09/18, 1320: Michael "Lance" Lynn (11-10, 3.17 ERA) vs. Dan Haren (2-2, 5.31 ERA)
Sat. 09/19, 1200: Michael "Wachamole" Wacha (16-5, 2.96 ERA) vs. Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.73 ERA)
Sun. 09/20, 1320: TBD - possibly Carlos "El Gallo" Martinez (13-7, 3.02 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (10-10, 3.38 ERA)