MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Count on Cubs to go full tilt vs. Cards

Chicago has punched its postseason ticket and can help keep St. Louis out

Count on Cubs to go full tilt vs. Cards

CHICAGO -- Nothing personal. But the Cardinals should know that it doesn't matter that the Cubs clinched the National League Central title a week ago. There will be two teams trying their hardest to win games at Wrigley Field this weekend.

As desperate as the Cards are to pick up wins, the Cubs are only three victories away from 100 and would love to get there by Sunday night, even if it might seem like piling on.

Beating the Cardinals at least twice this weekend would lock up home-field advantage over the Nationals throughout the NL portion of the postseason, but the bigger implications are in the Wild Card race. The Cards are a half-game behind the Mets and Giants as we enter the last 10 days of the regular season.

Because of that, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said earlier in the week he will "play straight up" against the Cardinals, waiting until series next week in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to rest some regulars, get work for relievers who need it and experiment with matchups.

"With all respect to everybody, you've got to play these next three games right," Maddon said. "Not that I don't trust our other guys, but industrywide, you just want to be able to do that."

The injury-riddled Cards are fighting to extend their franchise-best postseason streak to six seasons. If the Cubs can sweep the series or even just win two of three, they would do a lot to damage those chances, and in the process demonstrate how clearly they have turned this classic Midwest rivalry on its head.

As sweet as it was for the Cubs to follow five consecutive losing seasons with a run to the NL Championship Series last year, their fans loved it a little bit more because they eliminated the Cardinals in the NL Division Series. They did it in four games, hitting 10 home runs, including a nine-homer barrage in the two games played at Wrigley.

Must C: Cubs advance to NLCS

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this spring that the NLDS represented "a watershed moment" for the club. He knows about those, of course, as it was the comeback to beat the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series that set the stage for his Red Sox to win their first World Series in 86 years.

Epstein would go on to oversee another Boston championship run in 2007 and help build the roster that won in '13. But one thing he never really did was establish any dominance over the Yankees, who largely continued to set the standard in the AL East.

Until the Cubs win a World Series, Jon Lester and other players will tell you they haven't done a thing yet in Chicago. But with the organization that Epstein has built with the resources and autonomy provided by chairman Tom Ricketts, they are positioned to become the powerhouse that the Cards and other teams pursue.

Maddon famously blew his top after an easy win over the Cardinals last September. He was angry about Anthony Rizzo getting hit by a pitch in apparent retaliation after the Cubs' Dan Haren had hit Matt Holliday in the head with a pitch.

In a widely replayed postgame interview, he said the Cards had resorted to "vigilante" justice, and that the Cubs wouldn't stand for that.

"We don't start stuff," Maddon said. "But we will finish stuff."

Maddon on Cardinals' retaliation

As much as any other moment you can point to, this was when the Cubs found their swagger. There have been few other emotional confrontations in the series since then, with players and team officials on both sides of the rivalry exchanging respectful comments.

There's a buzz every time the teams get together. Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel said he felt it when the teams met at Busch Stadium in April.

"What is it, Game 11 or 12 or something like that?" Hammel said. "It's already heated. This is the best rivalry in baseball. The rivalry goes back a long time and you always have good ballgames. Neither team is out of it, just because of the energy the crowd brings."

Wrigley will be rocking when Jake Arrieta takes on Mike Leake on Friday. The buzz is only going to build until Sunday night, when Lester takes on Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals' most effective starter.

Some things never change.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.