Every baseball team's goal in February is to celebrate the World Series on their home field. It's the perfect ending that sits in a player's mind as he takes his first few swings in the cages. Clinching a playoff spot is the first step and on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, a group of baseball players celebrated their entry to the playoffs.
It just wasn't the St. Louis Cardinals. The Chicago Cubs took pictures on the mound, popped champagne, and cemented their place in the 2017 playoffs in their sworn enemy's house.
Imagine that. Your rival beating you in the most ultimate fashion in your own backyard. Screaming inside your walls. Chanting victory tunes for hours. It's the complete defeat. Embarrassing doesn't even cover the bill on your conscience.
This is not what the Cardinals had in mind this past spring, nor is it what President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak was thinking for a comeback after the Cubs won the World Series last year. It's a repeat performance that was thrown in the face of the team who used to rule the Central, but doesn't any longer.
Now, the question is simple: what are the Cardinals going to do about it? I'll summon my best Sean Connery/Malone voice from The Untouchables and ask again, "what are you prepared to do?!"
Let's get this recap of events out of the way.
The Cubs have delivered a death blow to the Cardinals in three straight seasons. In 2015, the Cardinals won the division and garnered 100 win season, but the Cubbies got the last laugh, vanquishing the Birds in four games in their National League Division Series. Last year, the Cubs destroyed the division, pushing the Cardinals back 17.5 games and won the World Series.
2017 was a different story. The Cubs didn't get the elite starting pitching and defense that was expected, and their offense wasn't nearly as strong as 2016. The door was kept open all season long, with the Milwaukee Brewers even holding down first place for months. At midseason, it was anyone's game, and on my now defunct radio show, Fresh Brew, I voiced a mission statement for the division: make moves at the deadline, bolstering your lineup, and the division is yours.
You see, at the time, no one was driving the car in the division. You had three kids arguing and slapping each other in the passenger seat and backseat of the car. Whoever made the moves at the deadline would assume control of the car-and the Cubs acquired Alex Avila and Jose Quintana, which filled the gaps on their roster.
The Cards didn't act until September, trading Mike Leake and acquiring Juan Nicasio. It wasn't enough. The Cubs took control, held serve, and buried the lede this week at Busch with a pair of assaults that demoralized the Cardinals fanbase.
Let's hope it opened up some eyes, because the gap between the Cubs and Cardinals is widening.
Stop yourself before you tell me that Alex Reyes coming off Tommy John Surgery in 2018 is going to pull the sword out of the stone on Spruce, and suddenly make the Cardinals invincible. Rethink before you tell me Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber, or Harrison Bader will make 2018-19 reversible with their experience and for sure production. As a one man wolfpack once said, check yourself before you wreck yourself.
The Cubs are the top dog right now, setting themselves up for another championship run. The Cardinals must win their last five games to have a fighting chance at the second wildcard spot. They need to be perfect and hope for the Colorado Rockies to be far less than stellar. The Cardinals face the Milwaukee Brewers-who are also ahead of them in the standings-the final three games. They haven't beaten the Brewers twice in a row since late April.
The Cubs didn't need anything to fall into place; they took care of business and set their own pace. They won't win more than 93 games this year, but took advantage of a frequently stalled division.
Here are the facts: The loyal Cardinal Nation fanbase has stuffed Busch Stadium three million plus style for years. The Cardinals rank higher in attendance than they do in payroll, and it's not even close. There's a new television deal with Fox Sports Midwest going into motion next year that will help boost the payroll. Ballpark Village is a packed house every night. As an Uber driver, I can attest to that. Bill DeWitt Jr. is making money, so it's time to spend it-or the Cardinals will turn into "the other guys" real quick.
Make an impact move. Trade for Josh Donaldson. Stop saying he's too old. That didn't work when fans were calling Justin Turner (21 HR, .945 OPS, 149 OPS+) old last winter. Donaldson could help the Cards immediately, and the Toronto Blue Jays are open for business.
Sign J.D. Martinez. Remember what Matt Holliday did with the Cardinals in 2009 after coming over in a trade? Martinez has been a freak with the Arizona Diamondbacks since a midseason trade. His defense isn't stellar, but let's worry about that later.
Trade for Giancarlo Stanton. He has a big contract, but he's only 27 and walking into a prime that has him launching 60 home runs this year with a .652 SLUGGING percentage. There's an opt out in 2020, so you just get three glorious seasons or give the man a raise. He's a stud and studs are expensive. The Marlins are open for business.
I'm not as worried about the pitching as I am the lineup and a difference maker, but the Cardinals could sign a starter on a short term deal. Don't refuse Lance Lynn money and pull another Mike Leake move.
The more important need on the arm side is a closer. Trevor Rosenthal is out of order for most of next year. Seung Hwan Oh became the Stone Arm instead of the Buddha this year. Juan Nicasio has impressed, but can he do it over a whole season. Could he be more useful closing down the 7th or 8th? Get a shutdown artist.
The Cards need a thumper in the lineup and a shutdown artist in the ninth. Imagine the games that weren't blown if a true closer is in the pen? Imagine a cleanup hitter who actually cleans up?
If the Cardinals don't make the necessary changes-ones that even reformulate their long standing philosophy-the Cubs will celebrate at Busch again in the near future. The Brewers may even bounce ahead of the Cardinals if they aren't careful.
If a lesson was learned Wednesday night and again this morning, it's that the N.L. Central has a new sheriff in town and the name reads, Cubs. They repeated as division champs and now stand as the ultimate threat. It's so simple that you can go ahead and shake your head.
If you want to strike down Goliath, you better yourself a mighty David.
What are the Cardinals prepared to do? How will they climb back in the race? Figure it out, because I don't care what they have done from 2000-2015. That is the past and I don't like living in it. The Cardinals need to worry about the future, because there is work to be done.