You could make a case for the Milwaukee Brewers, but I think most would say – as we sit here today – that the St. Louis Cardinals look like the biggest threat to the Chicago Cubs’ chances to win the NL Central for a third straight season in 2018. They’ve made some nice moves, could still make some more, and will get Alex Reyes back. In all, they have some chance to be in the NL Central race until the end. That’s a respectful stance, right?
The Cardinals’ 2018 Winter Warm Up has come and gone, and at it, Manager Mike Matheny shared his perspective on the upcoming season, and what he believes to be the league-wide perception of his team.
Here’s part of the quote via Bernie Miklasz (101Sports.com):
“There’s opposition all across the board against us,” Matheny said. “That’s what we have. That’s what we do. We compete. I also believe that we’re always going to have people who don’t believe in us ….
“It’s not the circumstances that matter, but how we respond to them that does. There are people all over the country that don’t have us written in to win the NL Central. How do we use that?”
Okay, so Matheny is sensing some outside pessimism on the Cardinals’ chances this year and he wants his players to use that as motivation to be better. Pretty normal, right? After all, the offseason isn’t over, but the projections forecast another non-playoff team in St. Louis.
And even his own president suggests the team “could” get to 90 wins …
"As of today, this is a team that could get to 90 wins. One thing that is a real positive for this group is it's coaching staff."
— Bernie Miklasz Show (@BernieShow) January 18, 2018
… were you a snarky Cubs fan, you could read that as something far from a vote of confidence.
But maybe that just strengthens Matheny’s response and call to action, right? The players are surely inspired by this fresh, different take on what it means to be underdogs … oh, wait. What’s that?
“[The low-win PECOTA projections are] unbelievable. Yeah, I saw it. I hope the guys saw it, too. I’m not going to make a big deal of it, though. I’m not going to beat up what the rest of the world is saying — trying to prove everybody wrong. I just want to make sure our guys take a good look around and see what we really are and what we have. We’ve got guys who are motivated. Guys have an edge as to how it finished last year.”
Okay, well, that’s a pretty similar take, but, hey, perceptions were down on the team last year around this time, too, so Matheny was just trying to shake off some negative attention, and provide a fresh, different take on what it means to be …
“What our guys were able to do last year,” he told ESPN in 2016 spring training, “and how they fought through [injuries] was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen over the course of a long season. And it’s a shame that that gets overlooked by one series at the end …. When you start getting a lot of people telling you what you can’t do … if you begin to cave in and believe that stuff, I think at that point it is somebody’s responsibility to stand up and point out the obvious.”
Hmm. Constantly overlooked and disrespected, it seems.
The thing is, in three straight pre-season messages (2016, 2017, and 2018), Matheny has gone to the same well of “everybody’s wrong about us, and we’re going to prove it.” Of course, in each of the first two cases, the Cardinals did not make the playoffs, the Cubs won the Central, and went on to reach the NLCS. (Adding a World Series trophy to their (admittedly quite small) collection along the way.)
Will it work the third time? Have the Cardinals closed the gap enough this offseason with a few key acquisitions (and probably a few more before Spring Training)?
Eh. I wouldn’t pick them, either. But hey, there’s always next year.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.