It’s been a while since the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs have had a true rivalry. 2016 might finally be the year it lives up to the hype.
“Wait till next year.” Chicago Cubs fans know the phrase well, and St. Louis Cardinals fans have likely used it jokingly over the years at their expense. But the Cubs believe “wait till next year” is finally over, well, next season, and for good reason.
After knocking out the Cardinals in the NLDS last season, Cubs fans are declaring that next year is finally here, and several analysts and projection systems agree — pegging the Cubs as early favorites to win the National League Central Division and even the World Series. I have a feeling the Cardinals will have something to say about that.
But it begs the question — will the Cardinals and Cubs rivalry finally live up to the hype in 2016?
There are two things that make a rivalry great — competitive talent on both teams and drama. Both the Cardinals and Cubs have plenty of great talent, they had that last season. But one changing factor as to why this rivalry will be more heated in 2016 is drama.
John Lackey and Jason Heyward took the phrase “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” quite literally when they left St. Louis for the Windy City, and it only took one playoff series to change their mind. When Lackey and Heyward decided to sign with the Cubs it instantly created some drama for next season. Heyward’s “aging core” comments about the Cardinals’ stars Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday only added fuel to the fire.
Drama is what heats up a rivalry. It cranks the fire up on the stove and gets the water to a fast boiling point, and pretty soon it starts to boil over. Think Reds vs. Cardinals in 2010 — Brandon Phillips‘ “I hate the Cardinals” comments and then the scuffle between he and Molina that led to (at least by baseball standards) a fairly nasty brawl.
I’m not saying necessarily that there will be brawls between the Cardinals and Cubs in 2016, but I know that there will be some high and tight pitches on both sides and some hard slides into second base. There will be some bad blood between these two teams, and that will spice up the rivalry even more.
On one end, you have the Cardinals looking to do something that hasn’t been done since they were the Browns in 1888 — win their division for the 4th straight season. On the other hand, the Cubs haven’t won the National League Central division since 2008.
Despite Heyward’s aging core comments, both teams have plenty of great, young talent, albeit the Cubs more highly touted. Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Wong look to be the next young core for the Cardinals’ offense, while the Cubs will turn to reigning Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant as well as Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. Make no mistake, the hype for the Cubs young power hitters is real.
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The Cubs have certainly earned that hype. After finishing 2014 with a 73-89 record, they did something that hasn’t been done in Chicago since 2008 — they won 97 games in 2015. Still, it wasn’t enough to dethrone the Cardinals for the NL Central title. The Cubs showed that their talent is real, and the Cardinals showed that they are still a gritty team.
Looking back on last season and all of the crippling injuries, it is quite an accomplishment that the Cardinals were even able to win 100 games and hold off the Pirates and the Cubs. And make no mistake, the Pirates shouldn’t be an afterthought. Pittsburgh will give both these teams a run for their money in 2016 as well.
But if there is one side of the game that the Cardinals might still have an edge in, it is on the mound.
Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha helped anchor the Cardinals rotation last season when Adam Wainwright went down with his Achilles injury, and with guys like Alex Reyes and Marco Gonzales waiting in the fold — the Cardinals should have a solid rotation for years to come. It will be a blast seeing guys like Martinez and Bryant go head to head as these two teams fight for the NL Central and the National League pennant.
For a rivalry to keep momentum though, both teams will have to play some competitive games against one another as well. Believe it or not, the Cardinals and Cubs have been fairly competitive over the years. In the last 10 seasons the Cardinals hold a slight edge over Chicago with an 88-82 record versus the Cubs. Last season, the Cardinals won the regular season schedule against the Cubs with an 11-8 record.
But, the Cubs all but wiped that thought out by beating their division rivals in the best-of-five NLDS series. Still, the Cubs haven’t had a winning record against the Cardinals since 2010 when they went 9-6 against St. Louis. That year Chicago would go on to finish 16 games back in the NL Central. You can bet that the Cubs will want to break that mold, and you can bet that the Cardinals will want to keep it that way.
I expect to see some very tight games between the Cardinals and Cubs this year, and it won’t surprise me at all if one team just barely edges the other in the regular season series. These two teams will again play each other 19 times next season, which means 19 times that we see budding young stars on both ends and a flair for the dramatic along the way. I’ve got the Cardinals edging their rivals 10-9 in the regular season, and hopefully we will see another great playoff series between Chicago and St. Louis in 2016.
The Cardinals and Cubs rivalry is finally back, and I believe next season it will be better than ever. Spring training can’t get here soon enough.