The last time the Cubs played the Cardinals, a little over a week ago in St. Louis, it didn’t end well for the Northsiders. The lost all three games, and saw the distance between themselves and the division-leading Redbirds grow to 11 and a half games. It was a discouraging point in the season, that’s for sure.
But the Cubs have since bounced back, first by sweeping the Mets in New York and then taking two of three from the Marlins at home. They needed to regroup, and that’s what they’ve done. And they’ve also got Jorge Soler back from the disabled list, so things are looking up.
And now’s their chance to repay the favor, as the Cardinals are coming in for a four-game series, including a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday to make up a rainout during that dark Kris-Bryant-in-Triple-A-because-he-wasn’t-ready-yet-or-something period. With eight-and-a-half games now separating them from the Cardinals, this could be a chance to halve that lead, and give the Cardinals something to think about before the All-Star break next week.
Sweep the Cardinals, you say? But they’re the best team in baseball, and they’ve been running away with the division for some time now. All that the Pirates and the Cubs can realistically hope for are wild card berths at this point, right?
Daniel Burnham once advised us to aim high and make big plans, and that’s what this series can be for the Cubs. A four-game split does nothing but shorten up the season by three days, and reduce whatever magic number the Cardinals may think they already have. And it’s not how a team that was just swept repays their opponent, either.
No, the Cubs need to win at least three games in this series, starting tonight behind Jon Lester. Lester’s 4-6 record so far this season is less than what was expected of him, but his role tonight is the same as it will be in any postseason series: Set the tone. Shut down the opposition. Keep the game close enough so that the bats can go to work. He wasn’t able to do this on opening night against this same Cardinals team, but the first half comes to a close tonight and the Cubs are at a crossroads for the second half. They can either make a strong push to get back into the division race, or they can bide their time and hope to catch the Pirates for a one-game playoff at Wrigley in October, instead of at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Will it be the Pirates that the Cubs are chasing in the second half of the season, or the Cardinals? We’ll know the answer in three days’ time, but my hope is that the Cardinals start hearing some footsteps soon.
There’s still a long way to go before the postseason arrives, and I’m on record that the Cubs will win the division this year. #LetsGo