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Published May 25th, 2024, 10:02 pm

"That gets to the frustration of Cubs fans," says The Athletic senior writer Patrick Mooney. "Of like look at this division and why is the approach so measured and logical all the time to its extreme? ... That drives Cubs fans crazy with good reason."

"It's where Cubs and Cardinals fans agree," continues Post-Dispatch baseball writer Derrick Goold.

As the Cubs and Cardinals face each other for the first time in 2024, a conversation about the direction the Cubs are going becomes a reflection of how similar the teams have become, right down to the approach when it comes to the National League Central. It was at that point in the conversation that the above comments are made in a brand new Best Podcast in Baseball, recorded outside of Busch Stadium on City Connect. Mooney, a longtime baseball writer covering the Cubs in Chicago and co-host of the new podcast Northside Territory (part of A. J. Pierzynski's growing Foul Territory universe), joins St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball writer and BPIB host Goold for a conversation about the rivalry, right down to the designs on the field, designs in the front office, and the designs of their Nike-driven City Connect uniforms.

Perhaps inspired by the Arizona Diamondbacks and their run for the National League pennant in 2023 with fewer than 86 wins, the Cubs have created that "measured, logical" model that does not go all-in at all cost because of an accommodating division, and that approach, as Mooney describes, has irritated Cubs fans.

Sure sounds familiar.

And so are the results.

Neither the Cubs or Cardinals have overtaken the Brewers this season to lead the division despite Milwaukee allowing its manager to leave for Wrigley Field, its general manager to leave for Queens, and also trading away its ace not too long after trading away one of the best late-game relievers in baseball. Oh, and going most of this season with the winner of recent best-reliever awards, closer and St. Louis native Devin Williams. All of that and a smaller spending budget than either the Cubs and Cardinals, and the Brewers remain at the head of the class. And what a bunched-up class it is. The NL Central is the only division in baseball with all of the teams still within reach of both the division title and a league wild card berth. It's so close that it might not take many wins to claim the division crown and all of the teams could be within a 10-game bandwidth.

In a division where even the slightest edge could be the separator, enter Friday night's rainout. The postponement of the series opener gave both teams a choice with their starting pitching.

The Cardinals escaped another turn of the rotation without needed to name a fifth start. The Cubs, meanwhile, opted not to shift rising ace Shoto Imanaga's start a day, and instead will get the lefty additional rest. Imanaga, at 5-0, has the lowest ERA of any pitcher in his first nine major-league starts. The Cardinals will not see what has made him so successful and brought him to St. Louis with a streak of 12 consecutive scoreless innings. The Cardinals will not get to see how the split-finger fastball plays in the regular season after bruising his ERA during an exhibition game in Mesa, Arizona, a few months ago. What else the Cardinals won't see is a question that Mooney explores while detailing the signing of Imanaga, how the Cubs built the rotation, and what the Cardinals will face from the Cubs' rotation.

Mooney also helps explore the difference between this Cubs rebuild, the Jed Hoyer Rebuild, and the Theo Epstein Rebuild that won the Cubs the 2016 World Series but did not create the perennial contender promised. It comes down to pitching. And there's a former Cardinals executive who is helping the Cubs stockpile pitchers to develop.

Which only adds to the familiarity between the region's longest-running rivals.

And that prompts the question, are the Cubs trying to be like the contemporary Dodgers or Atlanta or Philadelphia, or are they still chasing being like the Cardinals c. 2010s? And if both teams are chasing that standard, what does it mean that Milwaukee continues to finish ahead of them?

The Best Podcast in Baseball, sponsored by Closets by Design of St. Louis, is a production of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, StlToday.com, and Derrick Goold. This episode features a debut of a new, temporary co-host: a symphony of cicadas.

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Best Podcast in Baseball

Archrivals Cardinals and Cubs share more in common than still chasing Brewers for 1st