This is it.
This is the weekend we’ve been waiting for since October 2006. The one where the Cardinals finally clinch the NL Central and punch their ticket to destination postseason 2009. TBS, please prepare your forthcoming promotional copy accordingly.
Technically, the Cardinals' ‘magic number’ can’t decrease from 28 to zero over the course of three games. But what will happen when they dispatch the Washington Strausburg’s (damn Boras is good) in at least two out of three games will be a milestone: ten games ahead of the second place Chicago Cubs with less than a month of baseball to play.
Fittingly, the Cubs will spend their weekend battling the over-gentrified NY Mets. At least according to Milton Bradley. And as the calendar flips over to September, the Cubs might hear a faint sound 200 miles to the south. Winning. Cheers. Fun. All things that have been absent from the North Siders' season.
Misery loves company, so the Mets were the obvious candidate to join in the self-loathing.
10 games is an insurmountable mountain the Cubs can’t scale. 10 games in the last month is a pipe-dream of a comeback. 10 games back is death in baseball.
RIP divisional race.
Less than two months ago, many, including this idiot, were questioning the veracity of the Cardinals as not just a viable player in 2009, but as a franchise as a whole. Sitting on arguably the best player of the decade’s best first half ever, the team was seemingly content to let another summer of prime Pujols go to waste. Why bother increasing payroll when Albert would bring in the masses and the money by himself?
Then a funny thing happened.
They got Mark DeRosa. They got Matt Holliday. They got John Smoltz and Julio Lugo. They got serious about 2009 and re-charged a fan base that was pretty tepid, if not completely turned off.
Yes, the Cardinals did win the World Series in 2006, but that season was a fluke. They were barely over .500 and limped into the playoffs. But since the troika of Rolen/Pujols/Edmonds made a case for the MV3 in 2005, the Cardinals, for the most part, had been content with riding the coattails of No. 5. One man a baseball team does not make.
Then something happened in June ’09. The powers that be decided, thankfully, that it was time to reward the best fans in baseball with something other than a poo-poo platter of Chris Duncan and Todd Wellemeyer. Sensing that the fans had dug deep in these "troubled economic times" they matched serve and brought in some A+ talent and savvy veterans to make a run at championship No. 11.
While this organizational philosophy is good for the fan in me, it also makes it very difficult to parse blame to anyone other than the team and manager when things like an inexcusable loss to the Astros happen despite a quality start from Chris Carpenter.
The front office has done their job; the players are now culpable for the this team's ultimate destiny.
The team batting average since July 31 is a paltry .232. The right-handed relief spots, sans Ryan Franklin, have been shaky all year. Joe Thurston still occupies a uniform for some reason. These are all things that we could conceivably piss and moan about heading into the home stretch.
But this weekend isn’t about those things.
It’s about ending the NL Central race before it could become any fun. It's about making sure Cubs fans can count to 102. About taking back what rightfully belongs in St. Louis and not Chicago: winning.