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The Cardinals Are Expressing Confidence, but Talk Won’t Beat the Cubs

For a team that’s been dominated and frequently embarrassed by the Chicago Cubs since late in the 2015 season, the Cardinals have chosen an interesting time to make bold declarations.

I mean, beating the Chicago White Sox (9-20 record) twice by 3-2 scores was nice and all, but now that other team from Chicago is at Busch Stadium for three games of hardball this weekend. You know, those guys in blue. With the hipster manager and the cool vibe and the No. 1 winning percentage (.600) in the majors since the start of he 2015 season.

The history-hating generation of defiant Cubs who went straight for the throat of the idiotic Billy Goat jinx and killed by winning the 2016 World Series. The most famous drought in professional team sports — going back to 1908 — ended with a celebration in a river of flowing champagne.

So even though the Cardinals have won just 20 of their last 54 head-to-head games with the Cubs…

And considering that the Cardinals have won only two of their last 17 series played against the Cubs (with three splits) since July 2015 including the ’15 NLDS …

And as we note the Cubs’ 12-7 record at Busch Stadium over the previous two seasons …

Well, now.

Who is making noise over there, sounding all brash and confident?

Could it be the Cardinals?

Evidently.

Tulta munille!”

(You’ll have to Google that one and get the translation.)

The Cardinals have picked this particular week to tout their championship-caliber qualities and 2018 World Series aspirations,

Hot takes!

“I haven’t said this in a couple of years, but I have a feeling we have a team that could win the whole thing,” Cards pitcher Adam Wainwright said during a conversation with his friend and former teammate Matt Holliday on Sirius-XM MLB Network Radio. “I really do think that.”

Do tell, Waino.

“We have good starting pitching. We have a very strong lineup. And we have a very good bullpen. The bullpen is still kind of ironing itself out. We have a ton of amazing arms down there. Those guys are defining their roles right now. The lineup has had guys that are hot at times, and not hot at times. People haven’t hit their stride yet. We have superstar players who haven’t started doing what they’re going to start doing. And when they do, things are going to go crazy.”

Later on, Wainwright capped it off by saying “I think we’re in a much better spot than we’ve been in the last two years.”

Shortstop Paul DeJong also joined MLB Network Radio to offer his perspective on the state of the Cardinals vs. Cubs rivalry.

“To me it’s more about controlling what we can control,” DeJong said. “And knowing that we’re the best team in the division, and trying to play that way every day — whoever it is. I’m looking forward to playing these close games, and we end up in Chicago (for) our last game. Hopefully  we don’t have to wait that long to figure it out and close it out. But that could make for a heck of a weekend too.”

Third baseman Matt Carpenter was giddy after the Cardinals’ conquest of the White Sox.

“I know I’m biased and people may not agree,” he told reporters. “But this team has a chance to be one of the best ones I’ve played on in St. Louis, and that’s saying a lot.”

Can we get a witness? Will someone second that emotion?

“I’m saying the exact same thing (as Carpenter) 100 percent,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I mean, you just look at the pieces and you look at how this team has kind of been playing without having everything clicking.

“We’ve talked about that, but it’s true. You look at the pen. You look at what our starters are capable of doing, and it’s a dangerous, deep lineup. I’ve said that before as well. I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad he’s thinking that, and I hope every single one of those guys is thinking that. Because I think this could be one of the best teams I’ve ever been around.”

OK, a few comments:

1. I like the Cardinals displaying some swag as the Cubs walk in. The  Cardinals have been a milksop since Chicago manager Joe Maddon berated and mocked Matheny (“Tony Soprano”) and the Cardinals “vigilante group” tactics after a hit-by-pitch incident late in the ’15 season. Matheny stood down — showing weakness, just as Maddon hoped. The Cubs grabbed their supine rival by the neck and have been rag-dolling the Cardinals ever since. If the Cardinals truly believe they’re finally ready to put an end to the Cubs’ alpha-male superiority, it’s about time. This public display of recalcitrance could be a positive development. Potentially, anyway.

2. Here’s why I say ‘potentially.’ The Cardinals can talk as much as they want but the these words of newfound confidence mean absolutely nothing unless this team backs it up by taking the Cubs down on the field. If the boys want to make a statement, then winning games is a helluva lot more effective way to do it.

3. The Cardinals have so much to prove.  They really do. There’s no way of getting around that reality. And sending messages through talking points simply won’t circumvent some awfully disturbing trends. This isn’t  just failing to make the playoffs in each of the last two seasons … or getting thumped on a routine basis by the Cubs … or surrendering control of the NL Central to the Cubs … or finishing in third place, behind the Cubs and Brewers, last season. The Cardinals’ credibility issues goes much deeper than that.

Here are some ugly numbers that unfortunately reflect the decline of Cardinals Baseball:

–The Cubs have won six of the last seven series played in St. Louis.

— The Cards had a .648 overall home winning pct.  in Matheny’s first four seasons (2012-15.) Since the start of the 2016 season the Cards’ winning percentage at Busch is .517.

— The Cardinals have a losing overall record, 45-49, vs. NL Central teams since the start of last season. Over that time the Cards only have a winning record against one division opponent, the Reds, 17-9.

— While the Cardinals have a winning home record vs. NL Central rivals over the last two-plus seasons (44-39), they are 26-15 against the Pirates and Reds but much worse (18-24) vs. the Cubs and Brewers.

–Between 2012-2015, the Cardinals’ had the best winning percentage (.597) among NL Central teams in head-to-head games within the division. Since the start of the 2016 season, the Cards’ NL Central winning percentage is .512.

— The Cardinals used to be strong against the best competition. Between 2012-2015, they had the NL’s best winning percentage (.541) in games against teams with winning records.

— That began changing at the start of 2016. Since then the Cardinals have a pitiful 58-88 mark against opponents over .500; that .397 winning percentage ranks 10th over that time.

— That failure is even more glaring at home; since the start of the ’16 season the Cardinals are a horrendous 27-44 (.380) at Busch in games against opponents with winning records.

— The Cardinals put plenty of padding on their record against awful teams. That’s been the case so far this season. They’re 9-0 against the Reds and White Sox who are a combined 16-44. But the Cardinals are 8-12 against winning teams (.400) which ranks 10th in the NL.

The 2018 trend of beating the hell out of bad teams is nothing new.

Since the start of the ’16 season the Cardinals have the NL’s No. 3 winning percentage (.626) in contests against opponents with losing records.

The Cardinals are still capable of looking good — powerful, even — when they play the terrible teams, the rebuilding franchises, or the financially impoverished. But when the Cards step onto the same field with the best in the show — or just the winning teams — their flaws are revealed, and the results show the real truth.

Look, these trends can be reversed.

The Cardinals can turn this around, by starting to win more than they lose when they go up against teams over .500. But you can’t talk about it. You have to do it. And the Cardinals really can’t be taken seriously as a championship contender unless they start beating up the good teams … instead of getting slapped around by the good teams.

It’s one thing, the easy thing, to look like tough guys when you’re pummeling  the Reds, the White Sox, the Padres and other slugs. But if the Cardinals want rise above mediocrity and reestablish credibility, they’ll have to stand up to teams like the Cubs. And prove themselves against teams like the Cubs.

The Cubs …

Who are here this weekend.

In the Cardinals  yard.

Seems like the perfect time for the Cardinals to begin reversing a brutal trend.

Or …

The Cardinals can just keep  talking  about how good they are — instead of actually proving it.

So far, so great. The Cardinals took the first two games of the series, and Saturday’s 8-6 victory was especially impressive for the team’s persistence in fighting back from two deficits to tie it in the ninth and win it in the 10th.

That’s how to make a statement.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Congrats to Mike Matheny For Reaching 1,000 Games as Cardinals Manager