You know, I had a column about 80% done, about the state of the Cardinals’ outfield, and the decisions that need to be made as they approach the offseason, etc. However, following the close of one of the most improbably sweeps I can ever recall yesterday at Wrigley, a game which saw not only the Cardinals clinch a playoff berth, but also eliminate the Cubs, I’m not going to finish writing up a future-facing piece that looks and reads like a term paper. Rather, we are simply going to take this day and this bit of internet real estate and enjoy the roll on which our team finds itself currently.
Everything about yesterday’s game was, very nearly, perfect. And not just perfect because it was a good game, or because the Cardinals came out on top, or because they clinched a postseason spot. It was perfect because in 2015 the Cubs ended the Cardinals’ season, and by extension ended the Cards’ run of dominance in the NL Central which had begun essentially in 2012 (you can include ‘11 if you like, but remember the Brewers actually won the division that year). This weekend, the Redbirds stormed Wrigley, pulled down the walls, filled in the moats, and threw Kyle Schwarber’s home run ball into the river.
There were storylines, of course, as there always are when these historic rivals clash. It was Dexter Fowler who tied up the game, hitting leadoff for the Cardinals just as he did for the Cubs during their championship season. You go, we go, and Dexter is back going this year, and the Cubs went. The Dexter Fowler Experience here in St. Louis has not, it must be said, been nearly so positive and uncomplicated as his time in Chicago was, and at some point it feels like the Cards are going to try and move on from Dex if only because of the wave of talent that needs opportunities right about where he’s standing most nights, but watching him help push El Birdos past the baby bears doing his old job for his new team was, in a word, fitting.
It was Paul Goldschmidt who picked up the game winning RBI, and I suppose at this point we can now officially say the trade worked. Goldschmidt has been much maligned this season, with good reason, as he has looked for all the world like a middling slugger rather than a future Hall of Fame run producer, but when the moment came it was still Goldy standing at the plate, Goldy lining the ball down into the corner off a clearly gassed Yu Darvish, Goldy leading the team in OPS despite everything. This was exactly the sort of moment the Cardinals acquired Goldschmidt for, and there he was, coming through exactly how we hoped, and it looked just like it was supposed to look, and felt just like it was supposed to feel. Not surprise, maybe not even joy, but rather the satisfaction of an expected outcome, the contentment of a world that has bent to your will, if only momentarily.
Tommy Edman has been one of the true spark plugs of this team in the second half, acting as a catalyst for the offense, and there he was doing catalyst things on the bases, coming around to score the winning run. His jump on the stole base was impeccable; he swiped second with little effort, giving him fourteen steals in fifteen tries, all in just about half a season’s worth of playing time. Edman got on base, added another fraction of a run with his legs, and then streaked home when the club’s big man on campus strode to the plate and made the mighty look upon his works and despair.
It was Darvish on the mound, because of course it was. What once seemed an inexcusable failure on the part of the Cardinals to spend on an ace has traveled all the way from last piece of a dynastic puzzle to albatrossville and then back again, all the way back to twelve strikeouts in an heroic, doomed attempt to stave off the inevitable. There he was, clearly tired and soaking wet, trudging along in the rain, trying to keep his team’s season alive almost by himself, while the dogs brayed after his blood, and stopped only occasionally to remember when we wanted him so badly for our side, and how much water had passed under that particular bridge since then.
This series was marked by trauma for the Cubs, as they watched their midseason closer investment self-destruct multiple times, and this flawed but clawed club take advantage, exorcising their own late-signed reliever demons along the way. Every game was one run, and yet every game tilted the direction of the team which, for the moment at least, is the better club.
From 2012 to 2015, the Cardinals owned the National League Central division. They won 100 games during that time period. They went to three straight league championship series. They made it back to the World Series, again, only to see a Boston team take home the hardware, again. The boasted the best farm system in baseball one year as well, just before beginning that campaign which led to the fall classic. In short, for those years it was very much a Cardinal world in the central, and the other clubs were all just living in it.
That all changed nearly four years ago now, when the Cubs ran the Cardinals off the field at the end of a 100 win campaign. The flaws of the Cardinals were laid bare, while the coming strength of the Northsiders was on full display. It was a symbolic changing of the guard, as the Cardinals handed their crown over to the Cubs, giving the Central division into their hands. On a rainy Sunday afternoon in Wrigley, just a couple weeks earlier on the calendar than the moment it slipped from their grasp, the Cardinals took back the Central. It wasn’t quite as official as that Division Series loss four years ago; there is, after all, still the matter of holding the Brewers off. But this was the matching bookend to that dark afternoon at Wrigley those four years ago now. In between that day and this day, the Cubs had seen the dreams of their fanbase finally come true, then begin to curdle. The Cardinals, meanwhile, went through a crisis of confidence, a crisis of identity, and a crisis of caring, but now have reached the other side. The Cubs passed the Cardinals on their way up. The Cardinals just passed the Cubs on their own ascent.
Tonight the Cardinals will play again, in the desert. Today, though, all is right with the world here in St. Louis.
There will be baseball in October.