The Rivalry Continues: Cardinals v. Cubs 2011 Preview

This rivalry transcends the game on the field. Nothing is off-limits when it comes to St. Louis and Chicago. Which city has the better landmark, the better pizza, the better fans? All questions argued between April in September. But it all eventually boils back down to one thing: the teams. Who’s winning, who’s not? And that’s what we’ve come to do here today… to break down both teams, and decide who’s got the edge as this century-old rivalry continues in 2011…

Starting Pitching

Heading into spring training, the Cardinals should be feeling pretty good about their rotation. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are perennial aces, each finishing in the top 3 in Cy Young voting as recently as 2009. Wainwright is coming off career years in ERA (2.42) and Wins (20), while Carpenter turned in another solid season (3.22 ERA) and is an astounding record of 84-33 since 2004. Jaime Garcia had a great rookie campaign (13-8, 2.70 ERA) and could be the left-handed starter the Cardinals have been looking for since Rick Ankiel’s pitching career when up in flames back in 2002. Jake Westbrook is a solid number 3 pitcher (career .500 pitcher with an ERA of 4.22) that the Cardinals will have the luxury of running out as their number 4. The only question that remains is the 5th spot. Kyle Lohse was very unimpressive in his road back from injury late last season (4-8, 6.55 ERA in 18 starts) but may be the Cardinals best option. Brad Penny is now a member of the Detroit Tigers, and while there was some thought of possibly moving set-up man Kyle McClellan into the rotation, that seems very unlikely now with the trade of Blake Hawksworth in the Ryan Theriot deal.

The Cubs have a few more question marks in their starting rotation heading into spring training. They have 3 solid pitchers in Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Garza. All three had ERAs under 4.00 and winning records. Garza was a great pick-up. While it’s hard to what a 15-10 record and 3.91 ERA translates to in the NL Central, I think it’s safe to say those numbers will substantially improve from his time in the AL East. The Cubs will try to catch lightning in a bottle again with Carlos Silva, who started last year 9-2 with a 2.48 ERA before struggling with injuries in the second half of last season. Tom Gorzelanny is about attractive a number 5 pitcher as Kyle Lohse is for the Cardinals, but with a decent ERA of 4.09 last year, he’s definitely in the running.

Edge: Cardinals. Cards have as good a 1-2 punch as anyone in baseball, and too many question marks for the Cubs.

The Bullpen

IN 2010, the Cardinals Bullpen was head and shoulders superior to the Cubs. Chicago was 15th in the NL in bullpen ERA at 4.72. The Cardinals were nearly a full run below that at 3.73. The Cardinals lost a critical, up and coming piece to their staff in Blake Hawksworth, and the Cubs have reacquired veteran Kerry Wood. And while Cubs closer Carlos Marmol gave blew more saves (5) than Ryan Franklin (2), his ERA was nearly a full run better (2.55 vs Franklin’s 3.46).

The Edge: Cardinals. Both teams certainly have holes to fill, but the Cubs have more work to do if they plan to erase that big gap separating their bullpen and the Cardinals’.

The Infield

As always, the Cardinals have a big question marks at every position west of Albert Pujols (which by the way, the Cubs $10 million dollar contract they gave to first baseman Carlos Pena was very cute, but he’s a .241 career hitter coming off a .196 season, and Pujols is a future Hall of Famer. Let’s not waste any more time on first base: Advantage: Cardinals).

The Cardinals will hope Skip Schumaker figures things out at the plate and returns to his .300+ form of his earlier years with the Cardinals. It’ll be interesting to see how Ryan Theriot experiment works out; certainly won’t be worse than the Khalil Greene era, right? At third, David Freese is a big question mark heading into the season as well coming off his injury. It’s easy to forget he’s only had a few months experience in the big leagues. Although he appears to have a bright future, you just never know how the native St. Louisian will bounce back. Yadier Molina is a perennial gold glove candidate behind the plate, but his average has dipped of late.

The Cubs have the luxury of a proven anchor in Aramis Ramirez over at 3rd. Although he had a terrible season by his standards, hitting just .241, he still managed 25 HRs and 83 RBIs. It was his first full season coming off an injury plagued 2009, and I would expect him to return to his usual .300+ average with 30+ HRs and 100+ RBIs. That might be more than the left side of the Cardinals infield combined. Chicago also has a promising young middle infield. Starlin Castro hit .300 in his rookie campaign (he’s only 20) and Blake Dewitt wasn’t spectacular, hitting .261 with 19 errors, but 82 RBIs from a second baseman is definitely nothing to scoff at. Geovany Soto isn’t as good a catcher as Molina, but makes up for it with his power and average.

Edge: Cubs. Even with Albert Pujols, the Cardinals have some big questions at every other infield position. The Cubs will get major power from both corner spots, and quiet, top of the order production from the middle of their infield.

The Outfield

The Cardinals outfield could be scary good this season. If Colby Rasmus gets the 400+ at bats he deserves and doesn’t have to sit every third day or vs left-handed starter, he is a .290/30 HR/85 RBI/20 Steal waiting to happen. But will he get the Abs, and will he stay healthy? Speaking of health, Lance Berkman could do some serious damage as well. He’s shown in the past he can be a .350 hitter with 40+ HRs and 100+ RBIs, but he isn’t getting any younger. The Cardinals will have to hope he has at least one more spectacular season left in him. We all know what Matt Holliday can do. His only downfall has been hitting early in the season with runners in scoring position. After huge pressure in his first season after a major contract, expect Matt to relax and produce even more than last year.

The Cubs outfield was a disaster last season. Kosuke Fukudome has been disappointing for three years now, hitting just .263 with 13 HRs while making $14 million. Alfonso Soriano has had two straight down years, hitting around .250 since ’09 with dropping power numbers. Marlon Byrd, the Cubs only “All Star” last year, hit .293 with just 12 HRs and 66 RBIs. Need we go further?

Edge: Cardinals.

Despite the clear advantages in many areas, the Cubs had the Cardinals’ number last year. The Red Birds only won 6 of 15 games against Chicago. It was just one of many examples of the Cardinals’ struggles to beat bad teams last year. More than two-thirds of the Cardinals’ losses in 2010 came at the hands of teams with records that were .500 or worse. St. Louis needs to take care of business against teams like the Cubs this season if they plan to play in October.

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