Is the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry as compelling with Cubs on top?

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The last time the Cubs were in St. Louis, they clinched the NL Central and celebrated on the Cards’ home field in September. They open a three game series Friday at Busch Stadium.

The Cubs are in St. Louis this weekend for three games against their biggest rivals — we think. It’s still the Cardinals, right? We know we haven’t heard much on this from Hans in Milwaukee or Gunther from Kenosha in the last week or so.

Our takes on four key Cubs-Cards questions:

Is it only a matter of time before the Cubs put the Cardinals in the rearview?

Greenberg: Come on — of course it is. See: 2017. These Cardinals aren’t long-term threats. I was just in St. Louis for two games against the White Sox and saw lazy outfield defense (that means you, Dexter Fowler), terrible base running and a manager, Mike Matheny, who seemingly has a whole city leaning against him. Oh, I also saw a pair of 3-2 Cardinals victories. Did I mention whom they were playing?

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Wittenmyer: Yu kidding me? The way Darvish is pitching and the everybody else is hitting and (not) catching the ball, the Cubs are in no position to assume anything’s going to be in that rearview mirror, much less the Cards. They’ve played eight teams so far and have a winning record against exactly one — and those Brewers are in first place in the division. And this isn’t 2017. The Cubs can’t count on waiting for another big comeback. And the Cardinals didn’t have Marcell Ozuna last year.

Does Ozuna raise the Cardinals from the also-rans they were last year to playoff contenders?

Wittenmyer: Not by himself. But people forget that the Cards not only added that impact player to their lineup and outfield, but also added right-hander Miles Mikolas — the starter they signed out from under the Cubs after three successful seasons in Japan. He’s been one of the better starters in the league heading into Friday’s start against Jose Quintana. And if newcomer Greg Holland returns to anything close to 2017 closer form, good luck with that rearview mirror thing anytime soon.

Greenberg: Here’s one way to look at it. With apologies to Yadier Molina, the best catcher of his (bygone) heyday, Ozuna is the Cardinals’ best everyday player. He’s only the 42nd-best player in baseball — 30 spots behind Kris Bryant — according to a recent ESPN top 100 list. And no one would even try to argue that the balance of the teams’ rosters favors the Cardinals over the Cubs, so it’s not like Ozuna is the finishing piece of a can’t-miss puzzle. But there are a lot of teams in the National League that are capable of hanging around in the playoff picture for months. The Cardinals probably are one of them.

So maybe the rivalry is back, after all?

Wittenmyer: Apparently, not even Matheny’s managing can kill the Cardinals Way. 

Greenberg:  Can’t it? The Best Fans in Baseball (yawn) squawk all the time about Matheny leaving pitchers in games too long and being maddeningly indecisive in other ways. (No “Maddoning” jokes, please.) The Cardinals have lost their “Way.” They’re no more united or fundamentally sound than the next group of guys. Maybe Ozuna can fuel the rivalry fire some, though. When I asked him earlier this week about the Cubs, he said, “We’re waiting for them.” I liked the sound of that.

Wittenmyer: What would Ozuna know about Cubs-Cards — or any other rivalry, for that matter — after spending the first five years of his career in Miami?

Speaking of which, is this rivalry as good when the Cubs are on top?

Greenberg: That’s a hard no. I lived in St. Louis for nearly 17 years. Call it an inferiority complex or a Napoleon complex or an apartment complex — scratch that last one — but folks there are convinced Chicagoans look down their noses at that neck of the woods. And they’re kind of right, aren’t they? A Cardinals fan never is happier than when his or her team is riding high and dumping on the sad-sack Cubs. It doesn’t seem to be like that in reverse. Since the Cubs turned the tables on the Cardinals in the 2015 postseason, the rivalry has lost some juice. Not that it’s a tradeoff any denizen of Cubdom shouldn’t happily accept.

Wittenmyer: Seventeen freaking years? Sounds more like a felony sentence than a lifestyle choice, Arch boy.

Greenberg: Look, I’m not bragging about it.

Wittenmyer: At least you got out. You might be right about the intensity of the rivalry being better served when the Hooterville Nine has the upper hand on the big-city big spenders. But three years hasn’t quite overcome the previous nine decades just yet. And as long as Matheny can stay out of his team’s way, and both sides stay healthy, this could be a season-long battle by the early look of things — which could raise the intensity as high as in almost any season of the rivalry. Unless, of course, Darvish progresses to his All-Star mean, the Cubs find a leadoff hitter with an on-base percentage better than .320, and they remember how to hit homers and catch the ball again. Not sure your guy Marcell would even have an answer to that.

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