The last weekend of the 2016 season for the St. Louis Cardinals will always be remembered for two things: a three-day era of good feelings towards outgoing (like, leaving, not extroverted) left fielder Matt Holliday and it being the last stand for the early 2010s Cardinals mini-dynasty. And it came during a series in which the Cardinals won all three games they played.
It was an excruciating experience in scoreboard-watching. The Cardinals entered the series one game behind the San Francisco Giants for the National League’s second Wild Card spot, and with the Giants squaring off against a Los Angeles Dodgers team that had motivation to brutally dispose of its arch nemesis from the northern part of California, a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates seemed like a recipe for a sixth consecutive trip to October baseball. But the Dodgers, who had nothing themselves to gain from the series, phoned it in. On Friday, they allowed seven runs in the sixth inning. On Saturday, something called Ty Blach out-pitched Clayton Kershaw. On Sunday, the Giants scored five runs in the first two innings. It was definitive evidence that if given the choice between having a one game lead and a one game deficit entering the final weekend, there is no choice.
This weekend, the Milwaukee Brewers will be on the road against the Colorado Rockies, which is a mixed bag for them. On one hand, the Colorado Rockies aren’t a very good team. On the other hand, the series is in Denver, and the Rockies are historically much better at their novelty home park of Coors Field than on the road. The Rockies even have a winning record in home games this season. The Rockies have nothing to play for in terms of 2019 results (though they were eliminated from the 2018 postseason by Milwaukee, for whatever that’s worth), but they still have Nolan Arenado, one of the five best third basemen in the National League, and Trevor Story, the shortstop who remains one of the sport’s most perpetually underrated stars.
The St. Louis Cardinals face the Chicago Cubs, last seen trying to claw their way out of a trash can at Wrigley Field last weekend as the Cardinals swept them. The Cubs are now officially eliminated from postseason contention, and while they therefore lack that layer of motivation, they are probably fairly annoyed at the Cardinals. I’m sure Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, and Kris Bryant are ticked off. I’m also sure that the latter two of these players have already been declared out for this weekend’s series at Busch Stadium and that the former has said he would “probably not” play this weekend. The Cardinals should destroy the Cubs.
I mentioned this last week, before the Cardinals swept the Cubs in four games, but when I said that, as much as I’d like to take credit as a prophet, I was saying this not as a prediction but as a “hey that might be a good idea” statement. This time, it is declarative. The Cardinals should, as a matter of superior ability, destroy the Cubs, or whatever you want to call the corpse of the Cubs that just lost a series to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who stopped trying at baseball months ago. It helps that the 2019 Cubs have a Rockies-like home-road split. At home, the Cubs play at a 102 win pace. On the road, the Cubs play like the Toronto Blue Jays.
As a Cardinals fan, I would much rather root for the team playing at home against this version of the Cubs than at Coors Field against the Rockies. The Rockies aren’t a very good team but they are still, functionally, a Major League Baseball team. The Rockies are no less motivated this weekend than they were on their last home stand, when they had a 6-3 record. Meanwhile, the Cubs are far less motivated than they were when they were swept at home against the Cardinals last weekend, hence their decision that this weekend’s starters will be last Friday emergency starter Alec Mills, coming-off-injury Cole Hamels, and “a bullpen game”.
The Milwaukee Brewers have been hot all month, and have been winning games at a 150ish win pace since MVP Christian Yelich went down with an injury, but (and this should go without saying) they aren’t ACTUALLY this good. All credit to their success, but just as curses aren’t real, neither is a team being a team of destiny. There’s something to them playing well. They aren’t a team of literal divine intervention. I understand the comfort of bemoaning the sky falling—if it does, you get the satisfaction of being right, and if it doesn’t, who cares because your team won—but this is a defense mechanism more than it is a realistic assessment of the situation at hand.
As hot as the Milwaukee Brewers have been in September, the St. Louis Cardinals just went 5-2 on a road trip against two teams with winning records. It isn’t as though the Cardinals are some free-falling, chaotic mess because they lost a 19-inning game and then a game where their bullpen and starting lineup was spent as a direct result of said 19-inning game. And most importantly, the Cardinals have the lead. The Brewers could be magically replaced by the 1927 Yankees and the Cardinals could be replaced by the 1962 Mets and it is basically a push as far as who will win the division. That one game is that big of a deal. The Cardinals could clinch a one-game playoff against the Brewers tonight. This is possible, though realistically it isn’t the most likely outcome. But, as three years ago demonstrated, this might not matter. The Brewers might be the hottest team in baseball but this won’t matter in the division race if the Cardinals go ahead and destroy the Cubs.