By the time many people will be sitting down to dinner today, the Cardinals' season could be over. John Lackey, an impending free agent, might be making his last pitches for the team as he tries to keep the season alive. Jason Heyward might have played his last game as a Cardinal. The team's streak of four consecutive National League Championship Series appearances could be over. The Chicago Cubs might be celebrating, advancing to the NLCS for the first time since that eventful 2003 National League Championship Series.
Since the Chicago Cubs last blew a great opportunity to make the World Series, the Cardinals have appeared in four of them, winning two. They have made the postseason 9 out of the last 12 years, with Yadier Molina the only player to be on the team for all of those seasons. That run is not over. Molina will be back and so will a ton of talent that helped the Cardinals to baseball's first 100-win season in half a decade. Their run this season is what is at stake today.
Jason Heyward hit a key home run last night. Stephen Piscotty tried to get the team back in the game with a home run of his own. The team did something no team in months was able to do, and that was get to Jake Arrieta. Beating Arrieta would have added to the Cardinals' myth. After beating Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay in 2011, Kris Medlen in 2012, and Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw over the last two years, the Cardinals have beaten some of the best pitchers in baseball at the top of their game. The performance against Arrieta, perhaps somewhat due to the wind, perhaps somewhat due to fatigue, was something no team had done in recent memory.
With the wind blowing out at Wrigley, that effort against Arrieta went for naught. It was the expected outcome, but it does not make the loss any easier. I'm saving my criticisms and frustrations for later. There might only be three hours of baseball left in the Cardinals' season.
I'm not looking forward to the offseason. I'm nervous that the Cardinals will fail to sign Jason Heyward. I worry that questions will surround Carlos Martinez's ability to come back after being shut down. Similar questions may chase Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn, and having the patience to wait for spring to find out answers will be a challenge. I have concerns about the declines of Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta, and Yadier Molina. I'm already sick of hearing about nonsensical narratives about Jaime Garcia, who has given everything he has to complete an amazing comeback, and I don't want a winter with more of the same.
I don't want to speculate about trades. I don't want to trade anyone on this team. I love watching the players on this team compete and how they seem to enjoy playing more than any other team I have seen. I want to watch them keep playing after today. If you are reading this, you probably do too. We're in the minority among baseball fans. The Cardinals are a good story. They are a small-market team that competes at the highest level due to a smart, forward-thinking front office and a supportive fanbase that loves to watch talented players win. It is a story worth telling, but at this point, it is less a story as much as it is a conversation that interests those who are a party to the conversation far more than those on the outside. The conversation does not end as much as it continues to grow and develop as the story and roles change gradually over time.
The Cardinals are not a great story, though. The Cubs are a great story: a team in a major market with a unique fanbase and little history of success finally breaking through. That is a story that people can really get behind. It isn't one that lasts as we saw with the Red Sox, who quickly went from the team who finally knocked off the evil empire Yankees to jumping right alongside them. The Cardinals seem as though they are universally hated, yet puff pieces about how the Cardinals are special keep popping up every single year.
Great stories need great endings, and the Cubs do not yet have their ending. We know how the story ends, but we do not know when. They might get closer today, but there is still a game to be played, maybe two, and I'm not rooting for that great story. A good one will do just fine. Let's keep the conversation alive.