The 2017 Chicago Cubs may not be the fearsome powerhouse many were expecting after a 103-win, World Series championship season last year, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to the playoffs, and it doesn’t mean that things haven’t still changed.
Things like … the balance of power in the NL Central.
Now back-to-back champions in the Central, the Cubs are the class of the division for the time being, and it’s not like their move atop the Cardinals started only this week in St. Louis. Actually, the Cubs stopped being afraid of the Cardinals a long time ago.
According to President Theo Epstein, that change was a real, tangible thing that happened two years ago, when the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2015 NLDS.
“That was a really transformative moment for us,” Theo Epstein said, via CSN Chicago. “That was the point at which we no longer feared them.”
I’m sure many of you will pretend you were never afraid of the Cardinals or ever believed in their Voodoo Magic, but I certainly can’t count myself among that crowd.
Ever since I started seriously becoming a Cubs fan around 2003 (1998 was the year for me, but I was still just seven at the time), the Cardinals have always had something about them – some indescribable quality that gave them an annoying and frustrating edge at exactly the right time.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they actually had a special or unique will to win – because that’s just not a thing, in my opinion, or at least it’s very incomplete – but how can anyone say the Cubs didn’t somehow find a way to blow more wins against that team over the years than any other crew? Somehow, someway, the Cardinals always seemed to catch a break. Hell, they STILL find a way to turn the most peripheral minor leaguers into legitimate Major League talents. Most of that is a credit to their organization. They’ve simply been very good at what they do.
But no longer do they hold everything over the Cubs.
Epstein recalls a similar transition from his days in Boston: “I remember with the Yankees when I first got there [to the Red Sox] I felt like we kind of feared them a little bit. And then we were able to knock them off in ’04. It changed the dynamic a little bit, at least how we felt about them. We respected them, but didn’t fear them.”
Epstein went on to reitterate that the same thing happened with the Cubs after their NLDS series win back in 2015 (and I’m sure the 2016 NL Central title and World Series banner doesn’t hurt, either!).
Does this play an actual role in anything that happens on the field? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. But I can tell you one thing, the ability to keep fighting back, despite how large an obstacle may seem, isn’t exactly a non-zero factor.
This rivalry figures to ebb and flow for many years to come, but the current ebb has the Cubs in the driver’s seat, with nothing to fear in St. Louis:
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 28, 2017