The Royals and Cardinals have been facing each other in interleague play since 1997, but this is really the first time they've faced each other when the Royals have been good. Nonetheless, Cardinals fans will be quick to point out its not a rivalry, because the Royals haven't had sustained success, and its not that big a deal to the Cardinals for they have bigger fish to fry. So they probably won't care, or they will care, but they will only care the right amount because they are the Best Fans in Baseball and they will be the first to tell you so.
The Royals have gone just 36-47 against St. Louis over the years, although they actually have the upper hand on the eastern side of the state, going 18-16 in the two latest incarnations of Busch Stadium. The Royals have taken five of the last seven, including two of three at Kauffman earlier this year. This weekend, the two teams will match up with the two best records in baseball - 34-23 for the Royals, 39-21 for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals have zoomed to what is by far the best record in baseball, dominating their own division with a 19-8 record against the NL Central. They've won 12 of 17 since that rain-shortened loss in Kansas City on May 23 and their +63 run differential is the best in baseball. Their success hasn't been due to offense, however, as they are just 11th in the National League in runs scored per game, just below the league average at 4.00 runs per game. The Cardinals are third in on-base percentage and have drawn the fourth-most walks, but have hit the third-fewest home runs. They do lead the league in doubles, and Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, and Jhonny Peralta can all provide some pop at times.
The Cards are without two of their better power hitters in leftfielder Matt Holliday and first baseman Matt Adams, both out with injury. With Holliday out of the lineup however, the Cardinals can boast an outfield defense that is one of the best non-Royals outfields in baseball, with Randal Grichuk, Peter Bourjos, and Jason Heyward. Jon Jay has returned from injury and will likely serve in a semi-platoon role with Grichuk. As a team, the Cardinals are fifth in baseball in Defensive Runs Saved.
The success of the Cardinals stems largely from their outstanding pitching staff, the only staff in baseball allowing less than three runs per game. Their 3.19 FIP is the best in the game, and they are the second-stingiest in baseball at giving up home runs. Lefty Jaime Garcia has made just 20 starts in the last three seasons combined, but has pitched well in his four starts this year. He has allowed eight runs in seven innings over two starts against the Royals in his career however, and he has a reverse split with lefties hitting him better in his career than righties. Lance Lynn is having a very solid season, but the Royals were able to get to him for five runs in six innings in a 5-0 Royals win back in May. John Lackey was rocked his last time out, giving up ten runs in less than five innings of work against the Rockies.
Closer Trevor Rosenthal is 20-for-21 in save opportunities this season with a 0.62 ERA and well over a strikeout per inning. Seth Maness has served as a decent setup man despite a low strikeout ratio by having the best walk ratio (0.40 per nine innings) among all relievers. The Cardinals bullpen ERA of 1.98 is second only to the Royals in all of baseball, and their pen.
Make no mistake, the Cardinals are a very good team that will be tough to score against. But to be the best you have to beat the best. If the Royals can keep the game low scoring and scratch out a few runs, maybe Ned Yost can get the wheels turning and show that managerial success that took us to the World Series last year.