You would not be bending any limbs before the season to declare that the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals might be the best teams in their respective divisions.

At least one of those two franchises have appeared in five World Series since 2004, and they faced each other in the 2006 Fall Class with the Cardinals winning it all in five games. And since 2000, they have combined to win 12 division titles, with St. Louis holding eight of those.

Entering 2015, both clubs were favorites to win their respective Central divisions again. Both were coming off at least two consecutive division championships, had legitimate aces leading their rotations and had potentially potent lineups.

However, there were also questions and “what ifs” weaved into their preseason narratives. But as the season approaches its six-week anniversary this weekend, both teams have handled the questions, significant injuries and challenges from other teams within their divisions to sit at or near the top of the standings going into Friday.

They face off this weekend in a three-game series in St. Louis. The Cardinals go in with the best record in the majors (24-10), a five-game lead in the National League Central and the second-best run differential in the majors (plus-51). The Tigers sit a game behind the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central with a modest plus-14 run differential, making it appear the Cardinals have the advantage in a series that could determine who is closer to being baseball’s best.

In this series, though, the Tigers are the team that lines up better through all three games—potentially. They send out Shane Greene, David Price and Alfredo Simon while the Cardinals go with Carlos Martinez, Tyler Lyons and Lance Lynn for Sunday’s finale.


The Probables

Shane Greene has maybe been the streakiest pitcher in the majors this season. He threw at least seven innings and allowed one earned run or fewer in each of his first three starts—23 innings, one earned run, 0.39 ERA—but after that he failed to complete five innings in any of his next three outings and allowed at least five earned runs in each—11 innings, 20 earned runs, 16.36 ERA.

Greene might be starting a new streak as he went eight innings and allowed one run against the Royals in his last start.

He opposes St. Louis’ 23-year-old Carlos Martinez, who had a 1.80 ERA—25 innings, five earned runs—through his first four starts. But in his last two, he’s managed only nine total innings and has allowed seven runs in each.

“The last two outings, I felt like I wanted to do it too good, so I would go and rush a little bit at times,” Martinez told reporters through an interpreter last weekend. “I’ll try to be better for the next time, try to make the first pitch for a strike and try to be ahead in the count.”

Price has been mostly solid this season except for a 2.1-inning, eight-run debacle on April 22. Lyons is getting another crack at the rotation for a third consecutive year, failing to pitch well enough to earn a permanent spot in the last two. Through his first two starts this season, Lyons has allowed five earned runs over 9.1 innings.

Sunday, the Tigers go with Simon, who has been mostly a stud this year with a 3.05 ERA over seven starts. The Cardinals counter with Lynn, who is coming off six shutout innings in his last appearance.


The Injuries

Adam Wainwright has arguably been the most impactful injury in the majors this season. The Cardinals lost their ace for the season on April 25 when he went down with an Achilles injury while running out of the batter’s box.

At the time the Cardinals were well equipped to handle the loss because Martinez, Lynn and Michael Wacha were all pitching like front-line starters, and the team has gone 12-6 since the injury. But Martinez has struggled recently and Lyons does not look long for the job, so the Cardinals are definitely seen as buyers on the trade market going forward.

The Tigers have also felt the effects of injury this season as closer Joe Nathan has not pitched this season after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in April, which required his second Tommy John surgery. Even without him, though, the Tigers’ bullpen has posted a 2.93 ERA, the fourth lowest in the league.

The Tigers are also without catcher Alex Avila, who went on the disabled list Saturday with loose bodies in his left knee. Avila, who had a .342 OBP when he got hurt, will not have surgery and the hope is he can be back in less than a month.

The Future

Based on the most recent trends, it seems like the Tigers have the upper hand in this series on the pitching side and offensively since they have one of the best lineups in baseball. Plus the Cardinals have a couple of struggling arms going against that Detroit lineup.

But even with a series win here, the Tigers still have the more difficult road going forward. The Royals are proving they are not a one-year wonder with a first-place standing and an AL-best plus-42 run differential. Beyond that, the Minnesota Twins are above .500 and the Chicago White Sox appear to be improving to where expectations had them at the start of the season.

The Cardinals have a five-game lead as of now and the Chicago Cubs are the only other team above .500 in the division as it appears there is no real threat to the Cardinals winning a third consecutive NL Central title.

Regardless of the challenges, both teams are still living up to expectations as two of the best, making this weekend set quite the treat.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

Read more MLB news on