ST. LOUIS – Talking over the weekend about the big series against the rival Cardinals this week, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo seemed to especially like the idea of playing “spoiler.”
What kind of team on the way to clinching the division title with more than two weeks to go in what looks like a 100-win season talks about being a spoiler in the playoff race?
Maybe one that knows that once it takes care of its own business, it can take care of the dangerous Cardinals, too.
“I like what Rizzo’s saying,” said World Series veteran – and likely Game 1 playoff starter – Jon Lester. “I like the idea of being that spoiler, that we knock them out of the playoffs. And the aura of the Cardinals being in the playoffs every year kind of goes away. Like knocking out the Yankees.
“And especially us doing it. That would be a little thorn in their side.”
It could also be a significant thorn cleared from the postseason briar patch for the Cubs.
Even after Kyle Hendricks beat the Cardinals with his near no-hitter in Monday night’s series opener to reduce the magic number for clinching the division to four games, the Cardinals still had played .500 baseball (7-7) against the Cubs this season – including 2-5 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“Teams in your division know you more than other teams,” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “Especially the Cardinals. They’re a tough team to play. They play us tough. If we could come in and do that, it’d be great for us.”
The Cubs have two more against the Cardinals in this series, then three more in the final home series of the season.
The Cardinals are a half-game behind the Mets for the second NL wild-card spot with 19 games to play.
“We can definitely affect them more than they can affect us at this point in the race,” said another postseason veteran pitcher, John Lackey, who spent 2015 and part of 2014 with the Cardinals.
“It’s definitely an organization that expects to win over there,” he added. “They expect a lot when it comes to October.”
They also don’t need long memories to remember who ended their October in 2015 after a 100-win regular season.
Cubs players say they’re more concerned about their own business than assuring certain playoff matchups – or assuring that they won’t get certain matchups.
“We’ve got to finish what we’ve started, “ said right fielder Jason Heyward, another ex-Cardinal. “We’ve earned the right to be in this position at this point, but we have business to finish as far as punching our ticket. After that you play for home-field advantage. And after that you go play for a ring.
“You can’t take these things for granted; they’re not easy to do.”
Lester said, “We’re fine no matter what.”
But then he remembers the crazy scene at Wrigley Field when the Cubs beat the Cardinals in the rivals’ only postseason meeting.
“I’m still new to all this he said of the rivalry,” he said. “I know it meant a lot for these guys that have been here. And the fans. Especially to do it at Wrigley, and the fans getting to be a part of that and the celebration.”
To be able to do it again? To take care of the Cardinals before they even have to think about an October rematch?
To play spoiler?
“Yeah,” Lester said, “it would be pretty cool.”