Biggest NL Rivalry? The Brewers & Cardinals
By Benjamin Orr
Something that I’ve been pondering for awhile is how seriously the Brewers and Cardinals honestly hate each other. The comparison strongly resembles that of the biggest rivalry in the MLB, Yankees–Red Sox. Of course we get pretty tired of that rivalry all the time, so there’s gotta be new blood. Well, I think not only last year’s NLCS proved that, but just last season in general. We went 9-9 against the Cards and really, we’re both evenly matched. The rivalry was really put to the test last season with the NLCS, and it didn’t come out in our favor unfortunately. However, 2012 is a new year. With a new year comes a fresh start, so let’s see how this season will play out.
I honestly feel that I might have too much fun with this article. Originally, I was considering a part one/two format but decided against it. There’s a lot to write about between these two teams. To be fair, I don’t think this rivalry gets as much credit as it should. Yes, there are the Yanks and Sox, but other big rivalries are the Angels–Rangers, Giants–Dodgers and Phillies–Braves. I guess since the NL Central is so diverse, it’s hard to exactly pick two huge rivals, but in this case, I really don’t think it is. This isn’t to say that the Reds are not a rival, they are, but the blood between the Brew Crew and the Cards has been boiling. The NLCS last year caused so much tension between the two teams and it’d be wrong to say that the tension wasn’t already there. Name calling was a factor, both home crowds booing the opponent, intentional pitches thrown at the batter and not the strike zone and much more. So honestly, how does this rivalry fly under the radar?
Nyjer Morgan, or perhaps it was Tony Plush, came up with the nickname ‘Alberta’ for former Cardinals’ first baseman Albert Pujols. Of course, how does Pujols respond? With a hit that scores a run, giving the Cards a temporary lead. Of course, I’m talking about Game 1 of the NLCS. What happens when the Brewers are at bat? Ryan Braun hits a two-run shot, then Prince Fielder is drilled by a Jaime Garcia pitch. Oh boy. We’ve seen where this can go, and it’s never a pretty result in the end. Fortunately, things began to die down after Game 1, but who’s to say that this tension won’t carry into this season? After all, we do open our season against St. Louis.
Honestly, in comparison, the similarities the Brewers and Cardinals have are so close that it’s scary. Both lost their power hitting first baseman, both have very solid pitching rotations and both have heavy hitting offenses. So, I’m trying to keep statistics out of this article for today, but I can never help it. It’s almost a withdrawal, but it’s hard to compare without evidence so I’m going to do it anyway. So, let’s get into the hard stuff, no not liquor. Though for some of you, these stats might require a drink or two afterwards.
Offensively, the Cardinals destroyed the ball. They were 5th overall in runs (762),5th overall in batting average (.273), 6th in slugging percentage (.425) and 3rd overall in OBP (.341). Sure, a lot of that came from Pujols but the turnaround of Lance Berkman really helped them. Consistent production from Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday and Jon Jay also helped the Cards achieve their championship. The Brewers on the other hand heavily relied on the bats of Braun, Fielder and Corey Hart. While the Brewers’ offensive numbers were far from bad, they did not exactly match up with the Cards. On the season, the Brewers were 11th in runs (721), 8th in batting average (.261), 5th in slugging percentage (.425) and 10th in OBP (.325). While credit is given to Fielder, Hart and Braun, I still think Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy flew well under the radar. Advantage: Cardinals.
Pitching is an entirely, and I mean entirely, different animal for these two teams. This is where the separation comes in and can truly distinguish how this year may go. The thing about the Brewers is nobody knew how Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum would do. Yovani Gallardo had really been the one constant in the rotation, but even then, some fans had still not believed that Gallardo had proved himself. The Brew Crew ranked 9th overall in ERA (3.63), 4th in WHIP (1.24), 8th in opponents’ batting average (.246) and 5th in quality starts (98). John Axford shut the door on the opposition 46 times successfully, tying the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel for the most saves in the NL. Each Brewers’ starter had 10 wins or more, and really, it’s a great rotation. The Cardinals on the other hand had quite the mess to work with. A season without Adam Wainwright was possibly one of worst blows last season. Even without him, tough efforts from Jamie Garcia, Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse proved successful. The Cards ranked 12th in ERA (3.74), 15th in WHIP (1.31), 20th in opponents’ batting average (.261) and 15th in quality starts (86). Even then, the Cards still did not have a solid closer. The revolving door opened up for Fernando Salas, who eventually lost his job to Jason Motte, but even still, how secure is Motte’s job? Not to mention Edwin Jackson is gone. Advantage: Brewers.
Heading into this season is just a new breath of fresh air. The excitement of baseball’s greatness is soon. Stacking the Cards (no pun intended) against the Brew Crew can provide a fairly matched series. I except out of the 15 games we play against them this year, to hopefully go 9-6, but we’ll see how that goes. I think we can overcome the Cards again to win the NL Central. The rivalry is never going to die, and in fact, it may just grow stronger from here on. If it’s not considered the “best” in the MLB, then I’ll compare it to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. That’s how intense this can get. So, without further ado, here’s my bold prediction for the NL Central this year:
Brewers- 92-70, Cardinals 88-74, Reds 81-81, Pirates 74-88, Cubs 72-90 and the Astros 53-109.
Let’s hope I’m right on this.