photo: Taylor Davis and Matt Carpenter (Quinn Harris/Imagn)
After the St. Louis Cardinals dropped the first two meetings of 2019 with their long-time rivals, the Chicago Cubs, on Friday and Saturday, a segment of the Cardinals’ fan base seemed defeated, as well.
Take these two typical examples, which I encountered in my travels Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
“The Cardinals can’t win at Wrigley.” – TCN forum member
“The Cubs still own the Cards head-to-head.” – Facebook commenter
Granted, the Cardinals are coming off three straight non-playoff seasons, but the Cubs’ fortunes have trended downward since their 2016 World Championship, as well.
My view of the surroundings leads me to conclude that these fans should not be conceding superiority to the Baby Bruins.
While the Cubs took the upper hand starting with the fateful 2015 League Division Series epitomized by Kyle Schwarber vs. Kevin Siegrist, the Cardinals have made progress since.
Few seem to recall that just last season, St. Louis actually held a 10-9 season advantage over Chicago. Not surprisingly, each team established an edge at home. The Cubs were 6-4 at Wrigley and the Cards were 6-3 at Busch.
For those more negative Cardinals fans who cite results further back in time as evidence of the current team’s limitations, I ask you to step back and consider the huge changes to the team just since 2017.
This starts with three-fifths of the current rotation plus the closer, none of whom were yet with the club. Add to that Cubs-killer Paul Goldschmidt and a new manager among others, and it is clear the Cardinals of 2019 do not greatly resemble the team of just two seasons ago, let alone 2015.
One regular on TCN’s message boards sees a shortage of motivation. He believes the Cardinals have not aggressively targeted their head-to-head matchups with Chicago.
Wrote the poster:
“Maddon made beating Cardinals in St Louis a priority for the Cubs when he took the helm. He told his team that the Division belonged to the Cardinals until they could beat the Cards at home. I think Shildt needs to make a similar point of emphasis to his team.”
In my view, what this fan really wants is to be assured himself by Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. As noted above, the Cardinals of 2018 already established a significant advantage over the Cubs at home – and the two clubs have yet to meet at Busch in 2019.
Back when Maddon took over the Cubs in 2015, he had to overcome decades of frustration and disappointment – a very different place from where the Cardinals are today. Further, he is a master at managing the media, though the brass above may be less impressed, as they are letting Maddon manage without a contract for 2020.
For all we know, Shildt may be circling the Cubs dates on his calendar, as well. For example, his getaway day lineup in Washington, in which he rested three starters the afternoon before the Cubs opener, suggested just that.
But whatever Shildt is saying to his team behind closed doors is far more important than what he is telling the media (and fans). All indications are that the manager is highly respected by the players for his open communications. As a result, I highly doubt the Cardinals lack adequate motivation when they face the Cubs.
A few more wins against Chicago should remind uneasy Cardinals fans that these two clubs are very competitive and are likely going to fight through all 19 games this season. Their next head-to-head set will be at Busch on May 31-June 2, with another matchup the following weekend in Chicago.
In the meantime, lose that inferiority complex. It is unwarranted.
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