The 2016 season will mark the 125th season that the franchises of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs will have competed against each other in the same league and division. Of the two franchises, the Cardinals have considerably more success. The Cardinals have 11 World Series championships, and 1908 is a year remembered in baseball history not for what happened that year, but for what has not happened since. While teams have add their ebbs and flows of success, the rivalry has been renewed competitively and at this point, it is the best rivalry in all of baseball.
Ranking rivalries is a nebulous exercise that is bound to be subjective. Is history in years or games most important? Surely competitiveness should play a role? How much does proximity matter? Where does the current level of competition matter. Trying to weight different factors could lead to some sort of conclusion, but how satisfactory it becomes is still pretty subjective.
After a piece in which he proposed a divisional realignment that did not include the Cubs and Cardinals in the same division, Jesse Spector at Sporting News received some criticism for failing to understand the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry, and understandably so. Spector then ran some numbers to find out which teams had the most 1-2 finishes, and the Cardinals-Cubs did not rank highly, garnering just five points in his system.
What those numbers boil down to: Out of the ten times the Cubs have finished first in the last 96 seasons, the Cardinals finished second just twice and out of the 26 times the Cardinal finished in first place, the Cubs finished in second place three times. Spector recognized that both the Cubs and Cardinals being good adds some juice to the rivalry.
If this year marked the beginning of a new era of Cubs baseball, these numbers stand to change, which should be fun, because Chicago forging rivalries out of more than long-ago competition for National League pennants is a good thing.
This year marked a considerable uptick in interest in the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry as the teams jostled down the stretch, exchanging words and beanballs during the regular season and featuring the most watched Division series games 1 and 2 in a half-decade before the Cubs made the series decidedly less interesting. Whatever intensity the series had going for it last year has increased this winter with the Cubs signing Jason Heyward and John Lackey, Heyward discussing the Cubs young core at the expense of the Cardinals and Mike Matheny responding in public.
Over at MLB.com, Anthony Castrovince has attempted to take the pulse of the best rivalries in baseball as they stand today, and he puts Cardinals-Cubs as the best in baseball:
Obviously, 2015 changed everything. In the regular season, the Cardinals and Cubs played 19 times. Seven of those games were decided by a run, and two more were decided by two runs. The Cards took the season series, but the Cubs -- foreshadowing the October result -- won six of the last nine. When they met up in the NL Championship Series, the Cubs played an unexpected round of Home Run Derby, with a memorable Kyle Schwarber blast landing atop the right-field video board at Wrigley, en route to a 3-1 victory.
Castrovince also mentioned the Heyward comments and the Cardinals recent run of success in defense of his decision to make them number one, ahead of Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants, as well as some newer rivals in the Mets-Nationals and Astros-Rangers.
No single factor makes a rivalry great, but competition is certainly key in increasing the attention and intensity of that rivalry. With the Cardinals coming into 2015 with the division crown, but the Cubs advancing over the Cardinals in the playoffs, perhaps the only thing that could make this rivalry greater than it is right now is a continued run of success involving some meetings in the NLCS like the Red Sox and Yankees back in the early 2000s. The two clubs look well-positioned to conitnue their success into the future, and wherever you want to rank the rivalry, it is going to get intense and it is going to be fun to watch.