The moment Theo Epstein knew Cubs would no longer fear Cardinals


The moment Theo Epstein knew Cubs would no longer fear Cardinals

ST. LOUIS – After a century of waiting, the Cubs won their first playoff series at Wrigley Field on October 13, 2015, unleashing so much energy that you could feel the press box shaking, hear the crowd deliriously chanting “LAC-KEY! LAC-KEY!” and sense the heated rivalry with the St. Louis Cardinals would never be the same again.

“That was a really transformative moment for us,” Theo Epstein said. “That was the point at which we no longer feared them.”

Epstein spoke carefully before Tuesday night’s game at Busch Stadium, not wanting to jinx it or get too far ahead of himself, and the magic number to celebrate a second straight National League Central title would remain stuck at one with an 8-7 loss in front of 41,944. But Epstein didn’t need to be drenched in champagne and have a beer in his hand to appreciate how the Cubs have already shifted the balance of power in the division.  

After building two World Series teams for the Boston Red Sox and ending an 86-year championship drought that haunted New England, Epstein took over baseball operations at Clark and Addison with a “Baseball is Better” press conference on Oct. 25, 2011 that featured his name up in lights on the iconic marquee and a promise to build a scouting-and-player-development machine.

Three days later, the Cardinals won their 11th World Series title in the walk year for Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols, giving Epstein a new Evil Empire to take down after his epic battles against the New York Yankees.

“When I think back to that time with the Red Sox,” Epstein said, “I remember with the Yankees when I first got there 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.

“I think, in a way, the same thing is happening with the Cardinals.”

Epstein feels like that 2015 NL Division Series is the one that gets overlooked while accounting for this golden age of baseball on the North Side. The Cubs have won 288 regular-season games since the beginning of the 2015 season, the franchise’s best three-year stretch in more than a century (300 wins between 1909 and 1911). Since 1940, the Cubs have only had two other runs with at least three consecutive winning campaigns: 1967-72 and 2007-09.

In beating the Cardinals, Anthony Rizzo validated his faith during the rebuilding years and Kyle Schwarber added to his legend by launching a ball onto a Wrigley Field video board. Young players like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Javier Baez developed their muscle memory in big games. Kyle Hendricks – who would get the ball in a World Series Game 7 for the ages – made his first career playoff start.

That postseason surge also helped underwrite an offseason spending spree on free agents that zoomed toward $290 million, landing World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, ex-Cardinal Jason Heyward, future Cardinal Dexter Fowler and John LAC-KEY, who gets to start a Big Boy Game on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, a place where The Cardinal Way doesn’t have the same intimidation factor anymore.

“When you can win a division with them in it, it means a lot,” Epstein said. “When you can get by them in the postseason, it means a lot, because they’re very successful at what they do.  

“We will always respect them. That’s what makes it meaningful to beat them and to do what we’ve done relative to them the last three years. But I think there’s no fear there.”

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants