By Paul Schmidt and Jake McCormick
Nothing fires me up like a series revival between true rivals. While Cubs-Sox always dominates Chicago headlines, true Cubs fans know that their real arch rival is, in fact, an Arch rival. Get it? See what I did there? The rival is the St. Louis Cardinals, and they have an Arch there! It’s funny! Laugh, dammit, laugh!!!
Ahem…anyway, without further ado, let’s get a Cubs-Cards exchange going with our guru of all things Redbird (and Fredbird), Jake McCormick.
(Paul Schmidt) Two weeks ago, it didn’t look as though this Cubs-Cardinals series was going to be very important, but here we are! The Cardinals simply treaded water for two weeks and the Cubs got…well, lukewarm, and suddenly the NL Central is the picture of mediocrity. There’s a ton of reasons to be excited about this series this weekend, Jake, but tell me, why are you looking forward to four games in three days at The Friendly Confines?
(Jake McCormick) I’m not really sure how friendly those confines are going to be, but I’m looking forward to both teams facing each other four times because any excuses for losing on the grounds that “you didn’t get to face our best pitcher” can be thrown out the window. As consistently inconsistent as the NL Central has been, the Cubs and Cardinals both have quality pitching and one bat that can carry victories like Atlas and his globe (Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee).
This series is the biggest between the two so far this season, which means the pressure goes up and it should test the cohesiveness of both teams. The one downside to this weekend is that we won’t get to see an awkward reception for Mark DeRosa, a situation similar to Brett Favre returning to Lambeau in purple, because he’s going to be out until after the All-Star Break. That’s probably a good thing for Milton Bradley, who really doesn’t need DeRosa reminding him why he’s becoming an aviary expert standing in right field all day.
(PS) This weekend would have been interesting, because DeRo already had his hero’s welcome back to Wrigley when the Indians came to town. I’d have been a little surprised if the reaction to him in Cardinal red was the same.
As a Cub fan, I hate to even bring it up, but I don’t have the answer, so here goes: Why is it so hard to hate Albert Pujols? I don’t want to like him. I spent years, as a Bears fan, despising Brett Favre, so I have no problem hating talented superstars. So what’s different about Albert?
(JM) This is a pretty easy answer: Albert Pujols is sober, consistent year in and year out, and still doesn’t take credit
for being the best hitter in the world. I call him the Terminator because he goes about his business pummeling baseballs with barely an expression on his face. I swear I’ve seen Pujols get more emotional when his teammates perform well, which is definitely a quality you want in a superstar and leader. Much like John Connor’s protector, Pujols has almost no weaknesses in his game, which makes it a lot harder to dislike him. I have similar positive feelings about Derrek Lee, because even when he’s on fire he’s very humbled and was never in the middle of some of the best Cub dugout fights of the past few years.
(PS) My thought is that it is that Albert is an actual good human being. The same can be said for Derrek Lee, so I do think that you are on to something there. But I am pretty sure that Albert’s charity work off the field is one of the best parts of his character; of course, prior to last weekend, a very similar sentence could have been said about Steve McNair, and look how that ended up.
What scares you most about this Cubs team? What leaves you confident that the Cardinals will be on top of the NL Central by the end of the season? For the record – I don’t think I need to answer what scares Cubs fans the most about St. Louis, right?
(JM) I’m assuming you mean shortstop Brendan Ryan’s sniper rifle of an arm and the amazing rookie third base platoon of Brian Bardon and Joe Thurston. With the way people talk about the Cubs, you could assume they are hanging out with the Pirates in Davy Jones’ Locker. That’s the scariest part of the team to me; the fact that the Cubs already seem written off even though it’s virtually the same team as last year and we’re only halfway through the marathon season. The talent is there and all the Cubs need is a single game spark to start clicking together.
This year does seem a bit different than ones in the past because the pressure is still there, but the Cubs have as many internal problems as a cast of the Real World. Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley, Carlos Zambrano, and Lou Piniella all can be very volatile and the possibility for conflict makes me confident that the Cardinals will ultimately wrap up the division.. Plus, Tony La Russa has played a lot of rookies this year, and the team continues to win with the same quiet attitude as always. Once DeRosa comes back, and with Kyle Lohse returning to start one of the Sunday games, the Cardinals have to be the favorite to win the division. That is, provided the Brewers and Cubs don’t make any trades, of course.
(PS) The Cubs, certainly, won’t be making trades. And I keep waiting for this team to gel, but I’m starting to fear that it’s just not going to happen, which could mean the Cards do run away with the division.
The unsung strength of this Cardinal team is its pitching staff. The rotation is filled with unspectacular names that continue to just get the job done. Credit is obviously due to TLR and Dave Duncan, but what is it that these guys do that allow them to take any old pitcher off the scrap heap and turn them into effective starting pitchers and relievers?
(JM) If you look at the Cardinals pitching staffs of the past few years, you’ll notice the only big strikeout pitchers are Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. The one common trait guys like Joel Piniero, Braden Looper, and Jeff Weaver share is they are all control pitchers that induce a lot of ground balls by keeping the ball down and trusting the defense behind them. The Cardinals are always a consistently good defensive team, which is essential if there isn’t an overpowering pitcher on the mound. The Cardinals also have changed pitchers into quality hitters (see: Rick Ankiel), which is very similar to a Hindu converting to Judaism because it rarely happens. Ankiel and the Born Agains are a credit to the organization from top to bottom.
(PS) I love the Ankiel story, I really do. It’s a fantastic story. It’s even a little better that he was on HGH as well. And I’d argue that the trait that Piniero and Looper have in common is that they aren’t very good pitchers, and TLR and Duncan are magicians, but to each his own on that point.
One last question for you – I took my first visit to the New Busch this year, and was extremely unimpressed. It was very new, and the memorabilia shop in the outfield concourse was great, but other than that the park left me somewhere in between overwhelmed and underwhelmed. Whelmed, I suppose, is what I was. I feel as though I might have been biased, though, so what are some of the things that make New Busch great – if you believe it is?
(JM) I loved the atmosphere of the old Busch Stadium, but doughnuts are so before I was born. The only thing that stadium had going for it was the nostalgia of housing the most successful team in the history of the National League. Coincidentally, retro looks are in as long as it’s not a dome and has some sort of brick inlay. I think the best thing about New Busch is the outfield view of the St. Louis skyline and the Arch, which gives the stadium a sense of inclusion in the city’s architecture.
I won’t say it’s the most unique stadium in the world because I can see parts of Camden Yards mixed with PNC Park in the design, but overall I think it’s a good stadium experience. If I may also inject a little bias into this objective discussion, St. Louis is the best baseball city in America. The team could be playing on a high school diamond (or Wrigley Field) and they would still sellout for the season, so the actual look of the stadium matters much less to those who will watch the Cardinals regardless of the venue. Sorry about the Wrigley dig by the way. That’s my bias talking again.
(PS) It is really interesting, because I always hear about how good of a baseball town St. Louis is, and I just don’t see it. The game I went to was a Sunday afternoon game the day before Memorial Day against the Royals, and the park wasn’t sold out. The crowd was dead the whole game (and I’ve seen that happen more often than not on TV as well). It just seems odd that they keep getting classified as that, when I’m not sure that it’s true anymore.