Now that the Cubs are done reeling in pan fish, it’s time for them to take on something of more size and substance. If only the Cardinals were named the Muskies, the imagery here would be perfect. Alas, the cardinal is a small, winged creature, though the team’s logo does portray a stern bird with a look of disapproval on its beak. That will have to do.
The Cubs, if they’re serious about this whole postseason thing, need to do some major damage against a surprisingly good St. Louis team this week. I should probably withdraw the surprising part. History tells us that the Cardinals usually are good, and even though many prognosticators didn’t see this season coming from the division-leading Cards, that’s on the experts for not paying attention to the past.
The four-game series, which starts Thursday at Wrigley Field, figures to be a far cry from the recent Pirates-Cubs series, a live-artillery training session in which the Cubs scored 47 runs in a three-game sweep of sad-sack Pittsburgh.
After falling to the Reds 3-2 in 10 innings Wednesday, the Cubs are three games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central and tied with the Brewers for the second wild-card spot.
The next 11 days will decide the season for the Cubs, who are missing two of their biggest stars, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo, because of injury. Although the Cubs don’t need an act of God to make the playoffs, a mere smile in their direction from Him probably won’t be enough.
Having your two best players injured at the most important time of the regular season is the definition of problematic. The good news, if you’re a Cubs fan, is that Brewers superstar Christian Yelich is out for the season with a fractured kneecap. The good news, if you’re a Milwaukee fan, is that the Brewers finish the season with a game against the Padres on Thursday, a three-game home series against the Pirates and three-game road series against the Reds and Rockies, respectively. Those four teams are a combined 66 games under .500. That’s a diet of angel food cake.
After the Cardinals series, the Cubs have three-game road series against the Pirates and Cardinals, respectively, to finish the schedule. They’re still holding out hope that they can steal the Central from St. Louis. A lot has to go right for that to happen. For starters, the rotation needs rejuvenation. Right now, Jon Lester and Cole Hamels look like they could use a long pull from the Fountain of Youth.
But the Cubs have been missing something beyond pitching and hitting this season. You don’t have one of baseball’s best home records (51-25) and one of its worst road records (31-44) because you’re lacking bats or arms. You’re lacking something that is more interior than exterior. An accelerant. A propellant. Something.
This would be a good time for them to locate it, if it’s there. It’s hard to see the Cubs backing their way into the postseason with a 5-5 record in these last 10 games. It’s going to take something special. Is special there? It sure hasn’t shown itself this season. The recent injuries make finding it that much harder.
A wild-card berth seems more realistic, but it will take everything the Cubs have, along with some breaks, to get it. Given the softness of the Brewers’ remaining schedule, taking three of four from the Cardinals at Wrigley seems almost mandatory.
How is St. Louis, an unremarkable team at the plate, doing this? With smart, clean baseball. They’ve made only 60 errors, the fewest in the big leagues. The Cubs, with 106, are 25th out of 30 teams. Opponents are hitting a measly .237 against the Cardinals, so don’t expect another walk in the park at the Friendly Confines.
Two things are very much against the Cubs down the stretch: that terrible road record and their mercurialness over the last month. It’s possible that the second issue, their volatility, might allow them to turn it on in the last 10 games.
I keep coming back to this: Baez and Rizzo are the Cubs’ flexed biceps. Baez is out for the rest of the regular season with a fractured thumb and Rizzo possibly for the remainder of the regular season with a sprained ankle. That’s tough to overcome. And it wasn’t as if the Cubs were rolling when both players were healthy.
The only thing left to do is play. Hope that Wrigley Field offers enough energy to beat a tough Cardinals team. Worry about the road demons later. Cast enough times, and you might land a big one.