ST. LOUIS -- True story: I was attending a game in Phoenix during the Diamondbacks' inaugural season when I happened upon a "fan" and his girlfriend. As we're talking, a batter walks and -- I kid you not -- the young man asks, "It takes how many balls to walk?" Seriously. I thought, I probably would not hear that at Busch Stadium.
I bring this up as an example to show the difference between the Diamondbacks and Cardinals franchises. The Cardinals have as much history as any team in the majors, with fans considered among the most knowledgeable in the game. When I think Diamondbacks, I don't think tradition. I think swimming pool in right field and bandwagon fans who show up at Chase Field when it's fashionable.
But when you look at the two teams that will play four games at Busch Stadium this week, they're far more similar than different. See what I mean:
Both are in first place in their respective divisions, with both having exceeded most preseason expectations.
Both have endured their share of injuries. (Of course, what team hasn't?) The Diamondbacks won't have the services of second baseman Aaron Hill (hand), center fielder Adam Eaton (elbow) or veteran utilityman Eric Chavez (oblique) in St. Louis. Both are down a couple of starters, with Daniel Hudson (Tommy John) still on the comeback trail and Brandon McCarthy (shoulder) going on the disabled list last week. Like the Cardinals, Arizona is missing its opening-day closer, though J.J. Putz (elbow) is not expected to miss the season.
Both teams have plenty of young pitching. For example, 21-year-old Tyler Skaggs will make Tuesday's start for Arizona in place of McCarthy. Skaggs beat the Rangers last week when he was called up to start for Ian Kennedy (cut hand).
Skaggs will be opposed by 21-year-old Michael Wacha, who would still be in the minors, too, if not for injuries. As big a deal as Wacha is to St. Louisans, Skaggs is considered a better prospect. At least, he was before the season. He entered the season as the game's No. 10 prospect, according to mlb.com. Wacha was ranked 83rd by the same outfit.
Both lineups are stocked with .300 hitters. The Cardinals likely will go with their A lineup, which will give them a quartet of .300 hitters: Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran. The Diamondbacks figure to have three: Paul Goldschmidt, shortstop Didi Gregorius and center fielder Gerardo Parra.
Both teams are relying on young shortstops, and both are delivering. Gregorius is hitting .315.371.508 and has done nothing to make the Diamondbacks think he wasn't worth the price of Trevor Bauer. Pete Kozma's steadiness has been a key to the Cardinals' strong start.
Both teams have All-Star candidates at first base, and they likely are competing for one spot to back up one Joey Votto. If the decision was made today, Paul Goldschmidt would beat out Allen Craig. Goldschmidt has hit 10 more homers and has 15 more RBIs than Craig, and is out-hitting him .338 to .299. Craig, however, has played in 10 fewer games and still has a month to catch up before All-Star decisions are made.
Both teams are strong defensively. The Cardinals have made the fewest errors in the NL, with 19. The Diamondbacks have made the second fewest, 21.
Watch how the Diamondbacks align their defenders. One of their scouts told me last week that third base coach Matt Williams, the former Giants third baseman, has taken a keen interest in scouting reports and defensive metrics. As a result, the Diamondbacks are shifting their defenders around far more than in the past.
Trevor Cahill (3-5) and Lance Lynn (7-1) carry much different records into their Monday starts, but their ERAs are almost identical: Cahill at 2.88, Lynn at 2.91.
Both started in the season-opening series in Phoenix, and their respective teams both lost. Cahill took a loss after allowing three runs in 5 23 innings; Lynn gave up four runs in the fifth inning of his start, but that was mostly forgotten by the end of the 10-9, 16-inning Cardinals setback.
The Diamondbacks won the series, 2-1, and are the only team besides the Pirates to own a winning record against St. Louis. The teams won't play again in the regular season after this week.