Cardinals still a threat to the Cubs? Depends whom you ask

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The Cubs took two out of three in St. Louis, but the up-against-it Cardinals aren’t cashing in their chips just yet. (Michael Thomas/Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS — Say this much for the Cardinals: They’ve managed to throw a wrench or two into this Season of All Things Cub.

Just another Cubs doormat, they are not. The N.L. Central has a trio of those — the Brewers, Pirates and Reds, who combined are a silly 11-31 against the big blue machine. But the Birds? Even after getting walked all over in the rubber match of a three-game series here Wednesday, they’re a perfectly respectable 8-8.

“We’ve definitely held our own against those guys,” Cardinals left fielder Brandon Moss said.

So, they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice.

Not to mention essentially meaningless now that the baseball season is rounding the turn and entering the home stretch.

While the Cubs go home to clinch the division title — how does Thursday night work for everyone? — the Cardinals, a tick behind the Giants and Mets in a three-team wild-card heat, embark on their most important road trip of the year.

It starts with four games in San Francisco, where the scuffling Giants still believe they can pull off another even-year World Series surprise.

And, after three games in Denver, the trip ends at Wrigley Field with the final Cubs-Cardinals series of the regular season. If their rivals have one foot in the grave by then, the Cubs will be all too happy to give them a two-handed shove.

Heck, that might be almost as fun for the Cubs as clinching in St. Louis would’ve been.

But the Cardinals aren’t done fighting. One can discern this much just by listening to them. Some of what they say even sounds halfway believable.

“We believe we can beat any team, any night,” manager Mike Matheny said, “no matter where we are.”

The team’s bright idea is to get hot down the stretch, peak at the right time and eventually run through anybody — even the big, bad Cubs — in its path. It’s inspired. Frankly, it’s not half-bad. Could it be just crazy enough to work?

“We can jump up and surprise someone in the long haul,” Matheny said.

Look, it would be nuts to discount the dual possibilities of Matheny’s team making it through to the divisional round and then giving the Cubs all they can handle. Heavy favorites go down like Goliath seemingly every year in baseball.

Chances are, though, most Cubs fans are more worried about the Giants, who have outstanding starting pitching and, of course, those World Series titles of 2010, ’12 and ’14. As for the Mets, you don’t need anyone to tell you what happened the last time the Cubs tried to do business with them in the postseason. The wounds are still fresh.

The Cardinals? Somehow, their 8-8 performance against the Cubs this season hasn’t left much of a mark. That Kyle Hendricks utterly flummoxed them in the opening game of this series and Jon Lester easily hogtied them in the finale could have something to do with it.

It was as though the Cubs, who also have Jake Arrieta, said, “We’ll see your gobs of tradition and raise you more Cy Young candidates than you can shake a stick at.”

And yet, the Cardinals are still talking about a world of possibilities in front of them. What else are they supposed to do?

“It’s time for us to make or break,” second baseman Kolten Wong said.

Those are pretty much the only choices at this point.

“We’ve got some tough games coming up,” right fielder Stephen Piscotty said. “I think we’re ready for it.”

The Cubs will find out soon enough. They might enjoy it a little bit, too.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.


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