Cubs-Cardinals rivalry could hit peak status in 2016

Familiarity breeds contempt: The Cubs and Cardinals have played 2,363 games against each other in their long histories. USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals have battled since 1892, when the St. Louis Browns -- as they were then known -- joined the National League, where Cap Anson's Chicago Colts had been one of the league's original members in 1892. The Browns became the Cardinals around 1900, and the Colts became the Cubs around 1903 (with a few intervening years when they were referred to as the Orphans) and the two franchises have played 2,363 games against each other, including ties. When the National League split into divisions in 1969, both teams joined the NL East; in 1994, both teams were shifted into the NL Central.

Today we think of the Cubs and Cardinals as bitter rivals. It certainly seems the fans of those teams view themselves as bitter rivals. Here's the thing, however: While the Cubs lead the all-time series 1,197-1,147 and the all-time runs scored totals are nearly identical (the Cardinals have actually scored 50 more runs), the two clubs have rarely both been good at the same time. In fact, 2015 was the first time both made the playoffs in the same season. When the Cubs had last made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, the Cardinals finished 78-84 (their only season under .500 since 1999) and 86-76. When the Cubs won the division in 2003, the Cardinals finished third, though just 3 games back. In fact, since 1945 -- when the Cubs last reached the World Series -- the teams have finished first and second just once, in 2009, when the Cardinals went 91-71 and the Cubs finished 83-78.

That year they were tied for first on Aug. 5, but the Cubs lost 12 of 16 and that was that. The teams were never close in September. Even last year -- when the Cubs won 97 and the Cardinals 100, with the Pirates sandwiched between them -- wasn't that close; The Cubs closed the gap by winning their final eight games, but they had entered September trailing by 10.5 games. Still it looks as though we're at peak Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, at least since the late 1920s and '30s, when both were NL powers. Look how they fared over a period of years:


1. St. Louis

3. Chicago (four games back)


1. Chicago

4. St. Louis (20 games back)


1. St. Louis

2. Chicago (two games back)


1. St. Louis

3. Chicago (17 games back)


1. Chicago

7. St. Louis (18 games back)


3. Chicago

5. St. Louis


1. St. Louis

3. Chicago (eight games back)


1. Chicago

2. St. Louis (four games back)


Tied for second, five games behind the Giants


2. Chicago

4. St. Louis


1. Chicago

6. St. Louis (17.5 games back)

The Cubs and Cardinals accounted for eight pennants in those 11 seasons. The Cubs fell after that, other than 1945, so what's fueled the rivalry? Does it stem from the famous Ryne Sandberg game in 1984? Is it the inferiority complex of Cubs fans rooting for a team that has mostly been inconsequential in recent decades? Is it Cardinals fans feeling superior to the fans from the bigger city? Is it simple geography? Whatever the root cause, it's rarely been fueled by tight pennant races.

Of course, some of the sport's best rivalries haven't always been fueled by close competition. Here are the best chapters of some other great rivalries.

Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees

These clubs have had three intense periods of competition:

1. Late 1930s through late 1940s: The teams finished first and second in 1938, 1939, 1941 and 1942, though with the Yankees well ahead all four seasons. After the war, the Red Sox broke through in 1946, when the Yankees finished third. In 1948, the Indians, Red Sox and Yankees locked up in a great three-team race. With two games remaining, the Indians were a game up on the Sox and Yankees. The Red Sox beat the Yankees twice as Ted Williams reached base eight times while the Indians split, forcing a tiebreaker game that the Indians won. In 1949, the Red Sox were a game up on the Yankees with two games remaining, both at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won 5-4 and 5-3 to capture the pennant.

2. Late 1970s: The Red Sox won the AL pennant in 1975, the Yankees in 1976. The Yankees beat out the Red Sox by 2.5 games for the AL East title in 1977, and then 1978 came the infamous Red Sox collapse with Bucky Dent's home run in the tiebreaker. As much as anything, this era was fueled by the feisty nature of the team's catchers, Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson. Here's Fisk and Lou Piniella starting a bench-clearing brawl in 1976.

3. The 2000s: You know about this era, which started with the Yankees winning the 1999 ALCS, escalated in the 2003 playoffs and hit peak status when Jason Varitek brawled with Alex Rodriguez during the 2004 regular season, with the Red Sox pulling off the stunning comeback in the 2004 ALCS.

Los Angeles Dodgers-San Francisco Giants

This rivalry might be as good as ever right now, with the Giants having captured three World Series in the past six seasons and the Dodgers having won the past three NL West titles but World Series-less since 1988. They've finished first and second in 2015, 2014 and 2012. Before that, the teams had a tight race in 2004 (Dodgers won by two games, Giants missed the playoffs by one); finished one-two in 2003 (although with the Giants well ahead); finished two-three in 2002, though the Giants won 95 games and the Dodgers 92 games; and were one-two in 2000 and 1997 (Giants win by two). While the teams were rarely competitive at the same time from the 1970s through the mid-'90s, both had infamous spoiler games. On the final day of the 1993 season, the Dodgers beat the Giants 12-1 to knock out San Francisco; on the final day of 1982, Joe Morgan hit a big home run to knock out the Los Angeles.

In the 1960s, the teams had a couple of memorable pennant races. They tied in 1962, with the Giants winning the three-game playoff. In 1965, they were tied with six games remaining; the Dodgers won the pennant by two games. In 1966, a late Giants' surge fell short as the Dodgers won the pennant by 1.5 games.

Cleveland Indians-Yankees

A great rivalry from the 1950s that isn't much remembered because the Yankees nearly always came out on top. From 1951 to 1956, they finished first and second each season, but the Indians won only in 1954. A couple of the races were very close: two games in 1953, three games in 1955.