There are two teams… the Royals and Cardinals.
Barely separated by a stretch of interstate 70.
Roughly two hundred and fifty miles apart, one team falls to the American League, the other to the National. Contrast is a better descriptor than comparison, but simply by relative location, a rivalry is created.
The Cardinals, or the Saint Louis Brown Stockings, were formed in 1882. One of America’s initial baseball franchises, history is the enamel of this ball club- a story to tell in every corner, every decade, and in every one of their ten championships. Despite the casual ups and downs, the organization through its lifetime, still remains above water (A total franchise record of 10130-9437).
The Royals, established in 1969, became a more modern version of Midwest baseball. The Athletics came beforehand, but the Royals created a name for themselves quickly. As time stumbles off the clock and season upon season concludes, the Royals, for the most part, have declined (A total franchise record (3230-3477).
Between the two teams it is the Cardinals who claim the series lead at 34 to 26. In respect to the Royals, this is a series they typically perform better in than others, which places more importance on the rivalry. We all remember 1985.
There are more appealing rivalries in sports, let alone baseball. This is just one that most baseball fans in the Midwest learn to appreciate. There has been animosity and a deep competitiveness that is bred into this match up. Although most of us would like to see more of it, the hard fact that it only comes once or twice a year raises the level of anticipation. For the Royals and Cardinals both, it is a series they mark on their calendars long before the start of each season. Historically, it is a revenue generating series for both teams. Any vacant seats can honestly be blamed on the lack of success in Kansas City.
If in some aspect, we found both of these teams leading their divisions by the point in time they face-off, it could easily garner national attention and spark further interest year by year. But there is always something that keeps the excitement close to home. For three to six games each season, the Cubs become a second hand rivalry to the Cardinals. The Royals become the enemy.
Even though the Royals are easy kids to pick on, they still grabbed the ring in 1985 from the Cardinals. If you are a Cardinal, you are informed about that series. Never to be forgotten, it was the day the Royals were Missouri (and the worlds) best team.
The Cardinals don’t take that matter lightly.
So far, at this point of the season we witness a team in the Cardinals who are doing the usual by competing for a first place spot in the NL Central. The Royals on the other hand, started the season in surprising fashion, maintaining an above .500 record since game 1 of 2011. But as of recent note, they are finding every way to lose. Back under .500 for the season, the struggles are harder to nudge than that of their Saint Louis counterparts.
When Kansas City and Saint Louis extend the rivalry on Friday, much of the story will be the same. A steady, trust worthy veteran in Chris Carpenter will take the mound and he will face the former National League fill in, Jeff Francis.
It is more certain that Saint Louis has the advantage in this game. They have been playing better overall and they are bumping into the Royals at precisely the right time. Sure the crowds will be a little heavier than average games, but the Royals are currently lost in the cobwebs. Their identity has screeched off road into uncharted territory and they are looking to get back into the rhythm. Until then, I expect the Cardinals to go about business with the same game plan they have all season long. At the start of the season, Carpenter was the one pitcher you would undoubtedly put your money on. A proven track record of consistent success, he was the obvious substance of reliability. Shockingly enough, Carp has been overshadowed by all-star performances from other stems in the rotation courtesy of Garcia, Lohse, and McClellan. As a group, the 2011 Cardinals pitching staff is easily the best in baseball.
This is the last thing the Royals need, but are the Cardinals going to argue? NO.
The more the Royals decline, the staler this rivalry becomes. The Cardinals give their fair share of contribution to making this series exciting, but Kansas City needs to find anyway to win- anyway to get the stadium loud, on their feet, and passionate again. The past few years have seen a drop in attendance totals, especially on the west end at Kauffman. Hopefully with an influx of thrilling youth in KC and the combination of stable pitching and competitiveness in STL, we will soon see a rise in the series once more.
Although the Royals have found that usual losing trend, they still teeter on the pendulum of even baseball. If they can find a way to scrape off an I-70 series win, that could be all they need to jump start the season all over again. Ned Yost is familiar with a lot of players on the Cardinals roster due his time spent in Milwaukee. If he can somehow build a game plan around his past knowledge, and the offense can start scoring runs again, Kansas City can easily make this a weekend worthwhile.
The Cardinals have an ability to bounce back from tough loses a little better that the Royals so I have little concern if they happen to lose. The Royals need to win at least two of three. The Cardinals are trying to keep up with a Reds team that is clicking. There is plenty of reason why each team needs to perform. I think the Cardinals are the better squad this year, but in this series (as in any major rivalry), anything could happen.