One of the few simple truths about Cubs fans is that they hate the Cardinals. That hatred is bred through the smug arrogance of the “best fans in baseball”, the way it seems like the Cardinals get all the calls to go their way, every BABIP flare that some guy who hit .223 in AAA gets to drop for a two run double late to clinch a game…all of them have stoked, fanned, and fueled the ire of Cubs fans for years. All of the devil magic and pixie dust that the Cardinals bring to the park every day sends a dark cloud over Wrigley, even if the Cardinals are playing in San Diego.
Among the truths of Cardinals fans is that they don’t hate the Cubs. 107 years without a World Series championship just doesn’t make a fan base hate their supposed biggest rival quite like it should. Especially when your team is consistently winning; and has more championships than any other National League team. It’s not a surprise that when the Cubs are mentioned to Cardinals fans, the response is laughter before it is seething hatred. Cardinals fans have been amused by the Cubs…and their fans…for years. Even when the Cubs have been good: 2003, 2007, and 2008 for example, the Cardinals can laugh because the Cubs managed to screw it up.
Hatred is bred from success. Nobody hates the little brother they beat in basketball on the driveway every single day for years. But little brother’s fire grows; burning hotter until the day comes when he finally breaks through and wins. The start of this season had a very “little brother” like feel to it for the Cubs. In spite of being in or near a playoff spot for the entire season, the success rate against (and especially in) St. Louis was still awful. Big brother was dunking on little brother all over again when it was supposed to be different this time. For the Cubs and their fans, the frustration with losing was plain. Simple. Obvious. For the Cardinals, it was the same old Cubs.
Let’s go back to the last weekend of July. The Phillies. Lester and Arrieta were starting the first two games against the team with the worst record in the majors. It was a slam dunk that the Cubs get at least two of three, right? In baseball, momentum is a funny thing. The Phillies were actually playing pretty well coming into Wrigley that weekend. In spite of their record coming out of the all-star break (4-3), the Cubs really weren’t. They’d won some games (especially in Cincinnati) that they should have lost. And they got swept. Worse, they were no-hit for the first time in almost 50 years. The next night against the Rockies, they blew a ninth inning lead. Leading 7-4 going in, Jason Motte and Rafael Soriano…two veteran closers…couldn’t hold down the Rockies…and the Rockies suck. It looked bleak. And then…
Momentum in this game is a funny thing. The Cubs had none. They’d gotten swept and no hit by the worst record in the majors. They blew a lead to a team who was actively looking to sell off pieces (and actually sold off Troy Tulowitzki during their 9th inning rally). But one big time home run from a rookie who had made a critical error in the top half of the inning changed the Cubs fortunes that night, and little did we know, for the rest of the regular season.
Since July 26, the Cubs are 35-15. They are one game behind the Pirates for the top NL Wild Card spot and 10 games in front of the Giants with 14 games to play. They have the third highest winning percentage in baseball (.588), and would lead any division in MLB apart from their own at this juncture in the season. Jake Arrieta has thrown a no-hitter of his own after starting the other side of the one thrown against them 6 weeks before. Things have turned around in a big way.
At first glance, the 8-10 season mark going into this last game of the weekend vs St. Louis isn’t all that impressive. After all, the Cubs will again lose the season series to the Cardinals; big brother will reign supreme. Little brother is growing up, though. The Cubs have won 4 of their last 5 against the Cardinals, with a chance to sweep the last series of the year with Jon Lester on the mound at Wrigley. Some of the BABIP flares that the Cubs hate about the Cardinals are falling in for the Cubs against them. A potential two run rocket off of Jhonny Peralta‘s bat in Saturday’s win was hit directly at Kris Bryant at third base and went for the third out of the inning. And the game ended with some pixie dust of our own…
Not unlike the Cardinals, the Cubs have gotten some significant contributions from some guys that wouldn’t have been thought to give them a few short weeks ago. After being benched because of a months long slump, Starlin Castro has become one of the hardest outs in the National League. Tommy La Stella was a punch line as recently as a month ago because he had been injured since the second week of the season. Austin Jackson was acquired at the waiver deadline and has proven to be a valuable commodity in the outfield as the season wears close to the end. The corpse of Fernando Rodney is suddenly a trusted set-up guy late in games. Unheralded acquisitions becoming significant contributors, players returning from injury and performing like they never left, and someone starting to light it up late in the season are the kinds of devil magic that usually makes Cubs fans cry into their Old Style…because it almost always happens to us; not for us.
There is a lot of baseball left to be played. In the next 14 games, the Cubs will find out if Wrigley will host a Wild Card game or if they will have to travel to Pittsburgh (or St. Louis). If the last 50 games have shown Cubs fans anything, though, it is that the timely (and sometimes lucky) hitting, clutch pitching, ability to hang on late against good teams, and fortunate breaks can go their way. At a time where the Cubs will almost certainly make their first postseason appearance since 2008, it couldn’t be a better time to grow up. Big brother isn’t so scary anymore…mostly because little brother is growing up before our eyes.