So, BLou's post got me to thinking about a side-by-side comparison of the Cardinals and Cubs - how close are these teams really? As I broke things down, I was surprised where I came down on a few things.
One of the interesting things about this race is that both teams actual records match their Pythagorean Records (click here for explanation of "Pythagorean Records").
Corner Infield - Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball, but I'm not sure the gap between him and DLee is wider this year than the gap between Aramis Ramirez and Mark DeRosa. After all, since May, Derrek has been hitting .321/.398/.605 (he's in incline, you know). I thought this would be an area the Cards would win, but Aramis is tearing the cover off the ball and I'm going to say it's advantage Cubs.
Middle Infield - Julio Lugo and Ryan Theriot are the same player. Fonty/Baker & Skippy/Ryan are mirror images with Fontenot playing good defense but struggling to hit and Skippy hitting but failing at defense. I like the odds that one of Mike or Jeff can step up by season's end and so say this is a push, with potential to become an advantage for the Cubs.
Catcher - Unless there's an ESPN magazine cover curse, Yadi's the "best catcher in baseball," right? Maybe not, but he's been better than Soto this year. Advantage Cards. That said, despite Geo's low AVG, he's pacing Yadi as a hitter and could come back strong. The Cubs could close this gap.
Outfield - Soriano and Ludwick strike me as very comparable players, deficient in OBP, but bringing enough to the table to have value for their teams. I'd be concerned about Rasmus breaking out, but beyond him being still shy of 23, he's also struggling with injury. So, Fukudome has the advantage over Ankiel/Rasmus. That leaves Bradley and Holliday, which I think is closer than their current stat lines suggest. That said, until Bradley starts hitting for power, you have to give the advantage to the Cards. (I really wonder if Lou needs to move Bradley to #2 in the order to try and jump start that power by making pitchers less inclined to walk Bradley and giving him better pitches to hit.)
Front of the Rotation - Carpenter, Wainwright, and Piniero are a strong front three and these Cardinals - if healthy - will enjoy a starting pitching advantage in the playoffs (if they make it). I think Harden can be as good as Carpenter, while Carpenter isn't without his own injury risks; Randy Wells compares to Piniero as you wonder how they're both doing it and if they can keep it up. That said, I'd rather have Carpenter/Piniero and it's not even close in comparing Wainwright to Z, despite Z's comeback year. Wainwright gives the Cards a clear advantage.
Back of the Rotation - Lohse/Welleymeyer/Thompson/Boggs v. Lilly/Dempster/Marshall/Gorzelanny is just as clear an advantage for the Cubs, but the back of the rotation isn't as important should both teams make the playoffs healthy. On the other hand, it becomes much more important should the Cards suffer any pitching injuries.
Bullpen - Ryan Franklin's having a great year, and Trever Miller's doing well in his specialized role. Beyond that, the StL 'pen doesn't impress me that much. St. Louis relievers have a 4.08 ERA overall with batters hitting .243/.323/.389. Cubs relievers have a 3.95 ERA overall with batters hitting .229/.343/.377. The Cubs strengthened their bullpen at the deadline, though, and I'm going to give the Cubs a very mild advantage here.
Depth - I don't know the Cardinals organization that well, so maybe I'm missing some things, but they strike me as thin, especially after their trades. The Cubs' depth has been tested all season long by injuries and has exceeded expectations. I'll give the Cubs the advantage here.
Overall Lineup - In terms of how they do v. LHP and RHP, the Cubs' lineup is fairly balanced, while the Cardinals have struggled v. LHP, giving up .100 OPS pts. That should be helped by the additions of Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa, but is worth keeping an eye on. It's only been 17 games, but the Cubs' offense has come alive in the second half, hitting .278/.357/.485 while outscoring the Cardinals by 34 runs. For me, this is the big question.
Defense - It looks like the Cubs have had an advantage in fielding sizable enough that the Cards' acquisitions shouldn't make up the difference. Advantage Cubs.
So, Overall - that's the big question, right?
Overall, the Cardinals have been a slightly better team. The Cubs' offense had been underperforming woefully, but with the return of Aramis Ramirez, that has changed. On the other hand, the Cardinals upgraded their biggest offensive holes with Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and potentially Julio Lugo. To match that, the underperforming Cubs' hitters have to continue stepping up. They have the ability to do so.
In the end, I think these teams are fairly evenly matched and fans of both should be hoping our teams push each other to overtake the Wild Card teams and both make the playoffs.