The last time the St. Louis Cardinals played a postseason game, Jason Heyward and John Lackey were wearing redbird logos and had yet to suit up for the Cubs while Trevor Cahill picked up the win and Hector Rondon notched the save for the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
In other words, it's been a really long time since the Cardinals played in October.
They're trying hard to change that fact, going all-in for 2019 by acquiring perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt in a trade with the Diamondbacks Wednesday. This comes after they pulled off a big deal with the Marlins last winter by trading for slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna.
"It was a great division before that trade and even better now," Theo Epstein said Thursday. "To be expected. The Cardinals do a great job of producing young talent and have a lot of depth with young players.
"Last winter, it made a lot of sense to consolidate their young talent and their resources into one really impactful player and they did that with the Ozuna trade. Not having made the playoffs three years in a row and having that depth of young talent, we expected them to make another consolidation-type move for a great player and they certainly got a truly elite player in Paul Goldschmidt.
"It just reinforces that the NL Central is to be earned. We have our work cut out for us."
The Cubs' eyes are wide open about the Brewers as a rival after Milwaukee surged from second place to take the division from the North Siders in Game 163 just two months ago.
The Cardinals have been a legitimate contender in the division the last couple seasons but wound up falling short each year. Now, they just added one of the best players in the game and are ready for more. The only players the Cards lost off their big-league roster this winter were ancillary players — pitcher Luke Weaver (traded away in the Goldschmidt deal) and a trio of free agents in Bud Norris, Matt Adams and Tyson Ross.
And don't forget about the Pittsburgh Pirates, who featured a pitching staff full of Cy Young canidates if you just watched the games they played against the Cubs last year. They made the big move for Chris Archer at the trade deadline last year and are only losing Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison this winter and have already added outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall on a free-agent deal.
Even the Reds — who lost 95 games last year — have three All-Stars in their everyday lineup (Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett) and have some young talent coming up through a farm system that ranks No. 6 in baseball by FanGraphs' valuation.
As if the Cubs didn't have enough of their own problems to worry about with their "broken" offense and pitcher injuries, now they have to contend with a division that may be the strongest it's been in recent memory.