Over the weekend, there will be an opportunity to see baseball at is absolute most stereo-typically, nostalgic. The St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals will face off in a mid-summer, mid-America, early summer, regional rivalry-based series between two teams that are by and large based in the fundamentals that make the game great. It will be the first time that two clubs have ever met while both have been in first place in their respective divisions, and if it lives up to its potential, should be a titan of a baseball exhibition.
Quite honestly, the only thing that will not be akin to the true folklore of the fabric of the game is the designated hitter that will be employed due to it being an American League-hosted contest, but that’s forgivable in light of the considerable strengths this series could have in store.
Yet when the layers of the onion are pulled away and the core elements of the series are in play, it could be the best display of pure baseball played yet in the season. The Cardinals enter in customary form: holders of one of the best records in the game and poised to continue along the road as an force to be reckoned with well along as the season sees the climate change.
The Royals on the other hand are continuing to forage new frontiers for the long-beleaguered franchise. They have continued to be an undeniable force in the American League, holders of the best winning percentage in the AL on the year as a result of doing all of the little things in the game with an impeccable accuracy.
It stands to be truly a remarkable showdown between two teams that have been on a collision course for this series for nearly a year now. It is of course a series that had at least a realistic possibility of taking place in last season’s World Series, a plan that was thwarted by the impossibly remarkable effort of one Madison Bumgarner, who eliminated the Cardinals first, before turning his gaze on Kansas City and ushered in the same outcome there as well.
And while the push for the state legislature to ban the Giants’ lefty from crossing state lines continues, the two clubs that fell at his feet a year ago are finally meeting as competitive peers for the first time since the 1985 World Series that so infamously has banded them together in more than a logistical rivalry sense.
Yet for many reasons, seeing Missouri’s two MLB clubs face off in a Fall Classic would be tremendous, in all reality and when all things are considered, from a baseball-only perspective, there is no better time to see the two franchises face off than right now. Last October, the Cardinals were fading while the Royals were beyond surging, as a unit. Fast forward to today and both teams enter as a pair of the preeminent clubs in the game, and on equal tiers.
The Cardinals come in with a record of 27-14 and a 3.5 game lead in their division. The Royals in turn are a half game behind them, carrying 26-14 record which is good for a two game lead in their division. Even their roster impacts have corresponded in similar fashions.
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KC’s ace from a year ago, James Shields, has departed for San Diego, while Adam Wainwright is out of for the season with an Achilles injury. Yadier Molina has been defensively superb again, but has been challenged at the plate. The same could be said for Alex Gordon, who got off to a slow start. Both clubs feature a pair of hot hitting infielders in Matt Carpenter and Eric Hosmer, respectively, which are coupled with All-Star-caliber shortstop play in Jhonny Peralta and Alcides Escober. Mike Moustakas and Kolten Wong are answering the plethora of questions about their potential to deliver on a regular basis. And Matt Holliday and Salvador Perez are the offensive backbone of each club and are both off to extremely productive starts. Lorenzo Cain and Jason Heyward are both arguably the best defenders in the game at their respective outfield positions, and are capable of the big play at both the plate and on the base paths.
If those similarities aren’t enough, the teams boast the top two bullpen ERAs in their respective leagues as well, with the Royals unit topping all of the Majors with a 1.61 collective mark, while the Cardinals carry a 2.28 figure in just a third of an inning more work. Perhaps the only clear cut advantage the Cardinals carry is the efficiency of their starting staff, which even sans Wainwright tops the Majors in rotation ERA by nearly half a run at 3.07 and is tied for fewest losses as well at nine.
Regardless of the stats, this series will pit two teams joined at the hip via a highway and renewed (or at least intensified) disdain for each other, as well as competitive result and potential. When they meet again two weeks at Busch, there will emerge a leader between the squarely aligned teams. And baseball will see the gauntlet dropped between a pair of its clubs best suited to carry the summer into the fall – and perhaps keeping the World Series just a 3.5 hour drive apart.