The 2010 season is only dawning on the St. Louis Cardinals. The club has a long way to go before it is great. (Source: eyefetch.com)

St. Louis Cardinals favorites to win NL Central: A Cautionary Tale

We all think we know what each season will bring

And this year we all think the St. Louis Cardinals will run away with the NL Central. They are the best team by far. The Cardinals will repeat in the NL Central. No question about it. St. Louis is the class of the division – again.

Sorry to burst your bubble, Cards fans, but let’s all take a deep breath and think about what they (the experts) are saying and likely what all of you (the fans) are thinking.

For some reason I think I’ve heard this story before. Yes, now I remember. It’s what Mr. Gammons was trying to tell us. What we think at the start doesn’t necessarily come to fruition at the finishing line. Gammons continued with this:

Many of us had the Cubs in the World Series one of the past two years.

So, that’s why think was italicized. We (the experts) were all wrong. You (Cards fans) all know this story well. The Cubs won the division in 2007 and 2008, only to be swept each year in the first round of the playoffs. Still, coming off a league-leading 97-win season, everyone thought the Cubs were a lock to win the division in 2009. Maybe even…dare I say…break the curse and win the World Series?

The season previews that are coming out today for 2010 read like this in 2009 in the NL Central:

“They’re by far the best team in the division — the biggest favorite of all the divisions…I expect them to be the best team in the National League this year.” –MLB Scout for SI.com on the 2009 Cubs

Cubs are class of the NL Central – again.

The Cubs will win the pennant – Ted Keith’s Bold Prediction No. 1 for 2009

-Keith’s more in-depth prediction for the Cubs: “There should be little competition from the NL Central this year, which will allow the Cubs to cruise to their third-straight division crown, gain home-field advantage in the playoffs and rest their regulars and their rotation for the only month that will truly challenge them: October.”

We all know what really happened. The Cubs season was a train wreck. Milton Bradley divided the clubhouse. Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee had extended stays on the DL. And the Cubs failed to live up to the hype and regained a little bit more of the lovable losers moniker. Or maybe just the losers part. This wasn’t the usual Chicago dud, this team was supposed to win it all. It was a major disappointment yet again for the Wrigley faithful.

And a major source of comedy for all of St. Louis as the Cardinals – not the Cubs ran away with the division. So, when you’re finally done laughing about the Cubbies 2009 debacle, pay attention to this message for the Cardinals and all of its fans in 2010.

Predictions don’t mean anything after today. Sure, they’re fun to read. And it’s exciting to see where the experts put your team, but come October it means nothing.

Tony La Russa tried to hammer that home all spring.

He wanted to set the tone with the leaders of the club like Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter.

La Russa’s message: If you guys think you’re good, think again. We haven’t proven anything yet.

He knows the dangers of complacency and entitlement after completing quite a few of these marathons over the years. When you think you’re good, you’re in trouble. You can always get better. There is always more to accomplish. You went 2 for 4 today? Why didn’t you go 3 for 4? You pitched six scoreless innings for the win today? Why didn’t you go seven? His team is going to need that relentless drive to do better every time out if the 2010 season is to be a true success.

No one will remember the 2010 NL Central champions. Everyone will remember the 2010 World Series champions. No one cares which team is the lock to win the division. The division is only a stepping-stone to greatness. And greatness is the goal. A lot of teams are good every year. Only one team can be “great.”

La Russa wants to be great again in 2010. It could be his last year in baseball. He wants to go out on top. And it takes work to get to the top.

Right now, every team is at the bottom of the mountain preparing to climb to the top. Only one team will get there. Only one team will reach the top of the NL Central. Right now, the Pirates are tied with the Cardinals. So are the Astros, Cubs, Reds, and Brewers. There is no bonus or head start for being the preseason favorite.

The Cardinals – and the rest of the division and baseball – “start at zero.”

So, Cards fans take the preseason predictions with a grain of salt this year. Yes, St. Louis looks to be far and away the best team in the division, but anything can happen in baseball. If you’re still enjoying a laugh from the Cubs failure a year ago, try to learn something from the division rival’s fall. Maybe just this once, a Cardinals fan can take something valuable from a Cubs one.

Next year, at this time you could be sitting here wondering how the Cardinals didn’t live up to the hype. And the Cubs could be celebrating its first World Series championship in 102 years.

OK, maybe that’s a little out there. But it’s not impossible. Anything can happen.

There is plenty of work to do in 2010 in St. Louis.

Tony La Russa and his club know that.

“It’s not productive to be walking around digging yourself when you haven’t done (popcorn) this year,” the skipper said this spring.

But do you (Cardinals fans) know that? Think about that the next time you give a Cubs fan (popcorn) about their team’s lack of success.

Or don’t think at all. It is a rivalry after all. Give ‘em all the (popcorn) you want.

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Tags: Opening Day Season Preview Spring Training St Louis Cardinals Tony La Russa

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