My St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball loyalty dates back to 1964, so that’s about as diehard as a fan can get.
For the most part in those 50-plus years, the Cardinals have come to stand for excellence, including World Championships in 1967 and 1982 in my younger days. And they should have repeated in 1968 if not for a collapse against Detroit, games I listened to on the transistor radio in Mrs. Mason’s sixth-grade class (she must have been a Cardinals fan, too).
Since the calendar flipped centuries, the Cardinals have been the National League’s most consistent team. They have won 10 division titles and were second in the Central Division in three other years. They won the World Series in 2006 and 2011 and their last losing season was in 2007 as the team suffered from a Series hangover.
But this year the Cardinals have hardly resembled the 100-win juggernaut of a year ago. With their fifth loss in six games this season to pesky Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Redbirds are an unspectacular 16-16 and treading water.
What’s worse, we’ve played six weeks and the Cardinals are already nine games back of this year’s darlings of destiny, the Chicago Cubs.
With Sunday’s 13-inning victory over the Washington Nationals — probably the team they’ll have to get past to make the World Series — the former lovable losers are a staggering 24-6, which is a mind-boggling 80 percent if that math I learned in the sixth grade while listening to the World Series is correct.
Apparently most people except for me forecasted this. I had the Cubs picked second in the division behind Pittsburgh because I thought if it looked too good to be true, it probably was. But Chicago has incredible pitching and its offense makes it easy for its pitchers to relax because they know they’re going to receive ample support.
The Cubs are reminding me of the 1984 Detroit Tigers, who amassed a 35-5 record after 40 games and never let up, sweeping the World Series over the San Diego Padres in maybe the most bland Fall Classic I’ve ever watched.
The Cubs could end the division race by the Fourth of July, which is baseball’s first milepost. They already have established dominance over St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Washington, the teams they’ll be battling with along with the New York Mets and perhaps the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants. They have yet to encounter a hiccup, but they are so good they may be like the 2015 Royals and never have a long skid.
Making the playoffs last year as a wild-card was only the start for the Cubs. They have built on that success and they could have baseball’s best manager in Joe Maddon, who worked miracles at woebegone Tampa Bay. He’s an outside-the-box thinker who manages a lot of times by hunch and they seem to be paying off.
I’ll be honest, I hope the Cubs run the table because it would be good for baseball, which is losing some of its affinity from sports fans. For so many years it was a duel to see which team would end the World Series drought as the Boston Red Sox were the other frustrated team, but all that ended in 2004 as the Sox won it all and have won it twice more since. If Chicago does win, don’t be surprised if is starts to add on as well as it has a young group of core players.