By Tony Hooker
A tale of two cities (with apologies to Charles Dickens)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.
And so it is for fans of the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. The two teams, muddling through a mediocre season in the national league central, have taken decidedly different approaches.
First, for the north siders, yesterday’s fire sale of players represents a disappointing end to what looked to be a nascent dynasty when young studs like Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez led them to their first world series title in 108 years. You all remember 1908. Right? The Model T was invented. William Howard Taft was elected President, and the Cubs won the series, their last title until 2016. At any rate, the Cubs trades of Baez, Rizzo and Bryant completed the dismantling of the team, which began with the Cubs not tendering an offer to World Series hero Addison Russell, whose grand slam and six RBIs helped them stave off elimination in game 6 of the 16 series due to his off the field conduct. Kyle Schwarber, another contributor, was also non-tendered, prior to the 2021 season. What looked like a dynasty ended with wins in the 2015 wild card game over the Pirates and 2015 division series (over the Cardinals, sadly) , the 2016 world series, and the 2017 division series win over the Nationals. Their last playoff appearance was a 2018 wild card loss to the Rockies.
And so, they decided to blow it up. They traded most of their big money, big name players for prospects and draft picks, much as they had done to assemble all the aforementioned talent prior to their world series run. The Cubs have decided to fold for now, in hopes of being able to go all in at a later date.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, by not making any bold gestures, have demonstrated once again that they’re seemingly willing to try to stay good without actively seeking greatness. Of course, there’s a chance that the additions of pitchers Jon Lester (who won game five of the 2016 series for the Cubs in the first of two elimination games they faced) and J.A. Happ can eat enough innings until starter Miles Mikolas and Jack Flaherty make their returns to the rotation in the next few weeks. Starters Daniel Ponce de Leon and Dakota Hudson have begun to face batters during their injury rehab as well, so it’s possible that the team’s pitching, which had led them to first place in the division at the end of May, could at least come back strong enough to be in the hunt for a wild card spot. A spot in the 2021 playoffs would mark the fifteenth time since 2000 that the Redbirds made the postseason. Included in that span are World Series wins in 2006 and 2011. The birdies also lost to the Red Sox in the 2004 and 2013 series.
With Harrison Bader’s gradual awakening at the plate, added to the steady contributions of Goldschmidt, Arenado and the ageless one, Yadi Molina, paired with outstanding team defense, the Cardinals and their fans can see reason to hope that a playoff appearance is “in the Cards”.
For the baby bears however, only time will tell if, like Carton’s sacrifice at the end of A Tale of Two Cities, the Cubs dismantling will prove to be a far, far better thing than they have ever done, or if the sun will rise upon the sad sight of men of good abilities sensing the blight upon them and resigning themselves to let it eat them away, as it has been for the Cubs and their fans for most of the last century and a quarter.