Here’s how the NL Central finished:
90 wins was good for a Wild Card berth, and, well, you know what happened from there.
I’ll never, ever get sick of watching the highlights of the 2011 postseason.
The Cubs, though? They finished 25 games out of 1st place in the division. 19 in arrears of the Cardinals. Their farm system was languishing and with the young talent the Cardinals had in the pipeline, the outlook for future success looked bleak.
So they went big and hired Theo Epstein.
Mr. Epstein had a singular focus when he came to the Cubs: beat the Cardinals. Sure, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati could flare up from time to time and win the division. But the long-term strategy wasn’t about anomalies. It was about the elephant in the room.
5 years later:
The Cubs didn’ play the short game. From 2012 through 2014, they won 200 games. Total.
They methodically drafted hitters to counter the Cardinals systemic development of pitching talent. They kept their eye on 2018 as a time when they should be great again.
Greatness didn’t want to wait.
Earlier this week this is what Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told his team:
“We’ve got a whole bunch of teams that want to embarrass us every time we get onto the field.” Matheny said. “We just take care of our own business. That’s a great philosophy. We take care of ourselves. We’re not going to single out a team. Every single one of them is on the hit list.”
In and of itself, this isn’t a bad philosophy. Baseball is a funny sport in that the Cardinals could theoretically lose all 19 games against the Cubs this upcoming season and still win the division. A win against the Reds or Rockies counts just as much as beating the small bears.
But for reasons I can’t quite put a finger on, that quote just didn’t sit well with me.
It still feels like the Cardinals are in denial about their current situation. That they’re somehow on equal footing as the Cubs. That 2016 was fluke.
Maybe that’s not true. Maybe the face of the organization doesn’t want to show the team’s hand and is being coy.
Maybe it is, though.
And that’s worrisome.
When the Cubs were on the outside looking in, they made the conscience decision to take action not only to improve themselves but to win the NL Central year in and year out. They knew who the enemy was, what they liked to do and planned accordingly.
And here the Cardinals are.
17.5 games back. But refusing to say the word ‘Cubs’.
There’s a good chance I’m overthinking this.
There’s a good chance I’m still smarting from the fact that after a literal lifetime of being to bring a Cubs fan back to reality with four numbers – everything has changed.
I just hope that when the Cardinals are evaluating themselves that they’re not under the delusion that there isn’t a new normal in the NL Central. Because even if they don’t want to say it out loud, if every move they make isn’t with the intention of beating the Cubs?
We might just have to hold on to 2011 longer than we want.
Photo: OC Register