Well that was hard to watch.
So hard in fact that Mike Matheny didn’t bother.
“I didn’t watch,” Matheny said of the Cubs on-field celebration after clinching their second consecutive NL Central title. “Usually that’s when we don’t have any games left to play (when I would watch). And so I came in and we’re getting ready for tomorrow.
Based on his personality, Matheny’s mindset is unsurprising. Though they lost Wednesday 5-1 to the Cubs, this wasn’t technically an elimination game for the Cardinals. Always on the grind, the manager had no interest in watching the Cubs celebration when his team still has work left to do."
But the Cardinals have just about run out of time to do it.
“It freakin’ sucks,” Wednesday’s starter Michael Wacha said. “You never want to see anybody celebrating on your own field. It’s not a very good feeling.”
That it’s the Cubs doing the celebrating certainly doesn’t take away any of the sting. In a rivalry that was one-sided for so many years in favor of St. Louis, the script has convincingly flipped.
“I feel like we’re right there,” Wacha said. "We’re not too many games back, but I guess it is what it is… I know we didn’t stack up very well against them this year. That’s something that we’ve got to do a better job of, for sure.”
With due respect to Wacha’s optimism, the numbers dictate decisive Cubs dominance of this rivalry.
Finishing a respectable 9-10 against the eventual World Champion Cubs in 2016, the Cardinals were decimated by Chicago in the standings by 17.5 games. With most of their talent returning, a World Series hangover for Chicago let the Cardinals back in the division race this season—before dealing the definitive deathblow to the Cardinals through the head-to-head series.
Heading into Thursday’s series finale at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals are 5-13 against the Cubs this season. Merely splitting the season series with the Cubs to this point would’ve been enough for the Cardinals to hold a lead over Colorado and Milwaukee for the second wild card.
Instead, one Rockies win or Cardinals loss eliminates St. Louis from postseason contention for the second year in a row.
There are a variety of reasons the Cardinals will miss the playoffs. For one of them, you can thank the Chicago Cubs, the proud new owner of the rivalry with St. Louis.
“They’re a good team,” Jedd Gyorko said of the Cardinals’ inability to match up with the Cubs this year. “It’s just baseball.”
Recognizing the deficiencies of the roster in place for the Cardinals certainly does not fall on the players—the talents in that clubhouse have to continue with the mindset that tomorrow’s another day, and until the math says otherwise, there’s still time to make their move. There’s no reason for a guy to throw his teammates under the bus and detail the intricacies of how the Cubs are better than the Cardinals.
It does, however, fall on the front office to recognize those deficiencies, and—assuming they have an issue with the Cubs staking perennially claim to the division—to make the necessary adjustments.
When the Cardinals won a hundred games in 2015, but lost to the Cubs three games to one in the NLDS, some saw the writing on the wall. Still, there was an argument to be made that the series loss was an isolated incident, and the Cardinals future remained bright.
After 2016—St. Louis’ first postseason absence since 2010—it was clear change was necessary in order for the Cardinals to return to prominence. The front office did invite some change, turning over the roster in select areas.
Throughout the 2017 season, it became evident those changes weren’t substantial enough. Entering the season with a handful of veteran hangers-on, the Cardinals spent most of this year slowly detaching those players long after their expiration dates. The youth infusion that arguably should’ve been installed last offseason has now arrived, but it’s still not enough to overtake the Cubs.
The players don’t have to admit it—again, that’s not their job—but eventually, explaining away the Cubs dominance of the rivalry to “just baseball” is no longer a true representation of the situation.
The Cubs are better than the Cardinals, and no amount of internal options is going to change that any time soon.