LOS ANGELES -- The St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers have one of the best secondary rivalries in baseball, fueled mostly by some memorable postseason series. In recent years the rivalry became infused with West Coast-Midwest cultural differences, at least in the popular imagination.
So far in 2016, neither team has looked particularly postseason-worthy. The Dodgers, who slugged their way to another division title last year, have struggled to hit. The Cardinals, who had historically good pitching last year, haven't this season. Both teams have high expectations and surprisingly mediocre records.
Let's delve into the state of this rivalry and the state of the teams with a discussion between ESPN.com Dodgers reporter Doug Padilla and Cardinals reporter Mark Saxon.
Mark: Doug, in the past few years these teams haven't particularly liked each other. In the 2013 and '14 playoffs, Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, among others, got caught up in some jawing and on-field unpleasantness. There have been plenty of batters hit by pitches in recent years. It seems that these things don't always -- and probably shouldn't -- spill over from year to year. I don't get the sense the Cardinals are thinking that way. What do you sense from the Dodgers? Do they care much about this series, aside from as an opportunity to get right?
Doug: Well, when you're completely unable to score runs on a consistent basis, putting an opposing batter on base out of spite isn't the brightest thing ever. You want two teams that don't like each other? The Dodgers and New York Mets just completed a series in Los Angeles without incident, and the Dodgers have a guy by the name of Chase Utley on their club. The Dodgers and Cardinals need to work on the immediate future and not the past. I'm all for sexy, and I suppose "these teams don't like each other" is in that category, but they really need to worry more about themselves. It's only May, but it seems legitimate to ask if either of these teams can start avoiding the magnetic attraction of .500 and instead turn into a legitimate October contender.
Mark: It helps to play poor competition, and the Cardinals just beat up on a really bad Angels team for three games. I do have a feeling this series will bring out the best in both teams, perhaps in part because it is reminiscent of past playoff clashes. One cool thing is that it will showcase some really good young players, like Stephen Piscotty, Aledmys Diaz, Corey Seager and Trayce Thompson. On the Cardinals' side, Piscotty has been about as good as they expected him to be, while Diaz came out of nowhere to bat better than .500 in his first 50 at-bats and has been improving his defense. The Cardinals also have a young hard thrower in the minors named Alex Reyes who they expect to impact the big league team at some point this year. How have the Dodgers' young guys looked, and what kind of impact do you think they'll get later in the summer from their farm system?
Doug: Seager has been solid, with even more room for improvement, while Thompson has been a find since coming over from the White Sox in the winter. He is more of a fourth outfielder, but with Yasiel Puig's struggles, more playing time could be on the way. With Seager in the major leagues now, young pitcher Julio Urias is not only the Dodgers' top prospect but also one of the most highly regarded minor leaguers in all of baseball. The 19-year-old left-hander is a starter, but he figures to be on his way at some point this season as a reliever. The Dodgers will be protective with his innings, and relief is the best way to get something out of him sooner rather than later. With the issues the Dodgers' bullpen has gone through, outside of closer Kenley Jansen, dependable help is welcome, even if that help comes from a teenager. Pitching help will also come once the Dodgers get healthy again. Starting the season with 10 players on the disabled list has a domino effect, all the way down to carpal tunnel syndrome for the person who has to file all that DL paperwork. How have spring training injuries affected the Cardinals?
Mark: The Cardinals dodged the biggest one. Yadier Molina breezed through his rehab and has not only been his usual dominant defensive presence but also a huge part of the offense, to the surprise of some. The big missing piece is the underrated Jhonny Peralta, who is on the DL, but Diaz's hot hitting has negated that to some extent.
Returning to an earlier topic, these teams have had great postseason series. The Cardinals knocked out the Dodgers in 1985, 2004, 2013 and 2014, while the Dodgers eliminated the Cardinals in 2009. You and I aren't the youngest guys in the world. I was 15 in 1985, growing up in the St. Louis suburbs, and I remember the elation of those home runs from Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark. What do you remember about that year from the perspective of the thriving metropolis of West Covina, California?
Doug: That would be Covina, California - not West Covina -- and it is reassuring to see that the facts still escape you. Locally, it's like confusing South Carolina for North Carolina. But you are not alone in loss of memory. I covered last year's postseason for ESPN.com and can barely remember it, other than the scramble it is to travel between Kansas City and Toronto. And two postseasons ago? Forget about it. But some things are burned on the brain forever, like the Smith and Clark home runs in 1985. There was the TV graphic that said Smith had never hit a home run left-handed, and then bam. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda debating in the dugout whether he should walk Clark, and pow. And poor Tom Niedenfuer. The stakes were not nearly as high this time around, but it has been a fun weekend.