It's a series that finally looks even. Or at least, it's not as lopsided. Over the last several years, the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals have fared quite differently in their respective leagues -- the Royals sitting as the laughingstock of the AL Central while the Cardinals are surprised when they're not heading to the playoffs in the National League. While the Cards are still in first place in the NL Central, the Royals are hovering around .500 and their heralded farm system is finally seeing the light of the day at the major league level.
The Cardinals have finished in first place in 5 of the last 10 seasons. Tony LaRussa has the team playing well despite injuries to Matt Holliday and a slow start from star first baseman Albert Pujols. The NL Central was supposed to be much more competitive this season with the arrival of former Royal Zach Greinke in Milwaukee and the Reds returning such a young core from last year's division winner.
The AL Central, meanwhile, is upside-down this year with the Royals sitting in third place so early in the year and the Cleveland Indians leading the division. The Royals have finished higher than fourth or fifth in the division only once since 1998, and that was a third place finish in 2003. Suffice to say, the addition of Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy to a revitalized team has been very exciting for Royals fans.
Tonight's series opener also features two pitchers looking to turn around their fortunes in 2011. The Royals are sending starter Jeff Francis to the mound to kick things off. As we've previously discussed, Francis has to be frustrated with the lack of run support while he still searches for his first win on the season. The Cardinals counter with Chris Carpenter (1-3, 4.95), an ace pitcher who hasn't quite found his groove this season. Carpenter has been surprisingly hittable in 2011 after winning the Cy Young in 2009 and winning another 16 games last season. This year, Carpenters home run rate is his highest allowed in 8 seasons and his WHIP is the highest since 2002, the year before he arrived in St. Louis.