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Cubs embrace bigger target in ’17, plot escape from St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs got a glimpse of it during their first trip to St. Louis last season when stadium ushers cracked down on Cubs fans wearing “Try Not to Suck” T-shirts and stadium loudspeakers played ‘‘Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major’’ while the Cubs took batting practice.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon called it “psychological entertainment warfare” and labeled it “beautiful.”

The Cubs shut out the Cardinals that night and went on to win that series.

So what could the Cardinals do to top that this year?

Distract second baseman Javy Baez with the advertising board behind home plate that displayed a white background only when the Cubs were in the field Sunday?

Child’s play.

Hold them hostage in St. Louis for six nights to play three games?

Now we’re talking. Psychological warfare doesn’t get more mind-bending than that.

“I should have got an apartment,” catcher Miguel Montero joked when he learned Wednesday’s series finale was postponed and will be made up Thursday at the Cardinals’ request.

The Cubs expressed a desire to go home and play the makeup game during one of their two other trips to St. Louis.

“We have no say,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, palms up, referring to the weather.

But the home team has ample say in rescheduling early-season games when days off such as Thursday match up.

Never mind that the rain held off for lengthy windows Wednesday afternoon, defying the decision to postpone.

Whether the rescheduling decision was meant to tweak the Cubs, they know they can count on more psychological warfare with their rivals going forward — and maybe even the rest of the National League now that they’ve gone from media darlings a year ago to full-fledged champions worthy of envy and hostility.

“My first year, I think teams played us really good,” Kris Bryant said. “But of course you want to go out there and beat the guys who won it all last year.”

And if that means the target they so vigorously embraced last year is even bigger this time around?

“I hope so. I absolutely hope so,” Maddon said. “I mean, the bigger the target, the better we should play. The bigger the target, the more prepared we should be. I mean that sincerely. I love that stuff.”

The Cardinals admittedly came into this season “with a chip on our shoulder,” Matheny said before the season opener Sunday.

After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010, the Cardinals opened this season by beating the Cubs on a ninth-inning walk-off hit Sunday. The Cubs escaped Tuesday with a 2-1 victory.

Tuesday’s winner, Jake Arrieta, said he expects more of the same from the Cardinals this year.

And nobody would be surprised if the Cubs get the same kind of heightened focus and emotion out of everybody they play this year.

“If we didn’t run away from it last year, I certainly don’t expect us to run away from it this year,” Maddon said. “Regardless, I just want us to prepare and do our job like we would normally on a daily basis. If another group has to become emotional to play us or beat us, that’s going to run out at some point, too.

“It’s a lot like what we did last year, where we don’t necessarily worry about thoughts like that.”

No matter how long they might be held hostage in St. Louis.

Follow me on Twitter@GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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