Cubs embrace bigger target in ’17, plot escape from St. Louis

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ST. LOUIS – The Cubs got a glimpse of it their first trip into St. Louis a year ago, when stadium ushers cracked down on Cubs fans wearing “Try Not to Suck” T-shirts and the stadium PA operator played the soft, dulcet tones of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major while the Cubs took batting practice – at one point drowning out the Cubs’ efforts to hear their 1980s rock mix on their portable speakers.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon called it “psychological entertainment warfare” – and called it “beautiful.”

The Cubs shut out the Cardinals that night and went on to win that series.

So what could the Cardinals possibly do to top that coming into this year?

Distract second baseman Javy Baez with the advertising board behind home plate that displayed a white background only when the Cubs were in the field in Sunday’s opener?

Child’s play.

Hold them hostage in St. Louis for six nights to play three games?

Now we’re talking. Psychological warfare doesn’t get more mind-bending than that.

“I should have got an apartment,” catcher Miguel Montero joked when he learned Wednesday’s series finale of the season-opening series was postponed – and that the Cardinals compelled a Thursday afternoon makeup date.

The Cubs expressed a desire to go home Wednesday and play the makeup game during one of the two other trips into St. Louis this season.

“We have no say,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, palms up, referring to the weather.

Left unsaid was the ample say the home team has in rescheduling early season games when off days such as Thursday match up.

Never mind that the rain held off for lengthy windows during the afternoon.

How deep a dig at the Cubs Wednesday’s decision was intended to be, the Cubs know they can count on more “psychological warfare” with their rivals going forward – and maybe even the rest of the National League now that they’ve gone from merely ordained media darlings a year ago to full-fledged champions worthy of envy and hostility.

“My first year I think teams played us really good,” said nice-guy, clothing-model MVP Kris Bryant. “But of course you want to go out there and beat the guys who won it all last year.”

And if that means the target they so vigorously embraced last year is even bigger this time around?

“I hope so. I absolutely hope so,” Maddon said. “I mean, the bigger the target, the better we should play. The bigger the target, the more prepared we should be. I mean that sincerely. I love that stuff.”

The Cardinals admittedly came into this season “with a chip on our shoulder,” Matheny said before Sunday’s opener.

After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010 last season, they opened this one by beating the Cubs on a ninth-inning walk-off Sunday. The Cubs escaped Tuesday with a 2-1 victory.

Tuesday’s winner, Jake Arrieta, said he expects more of the same from the Cardinals this year.

And nobody would be surprised if the Cubs get the same kind of heightened focus and emotion out of everybody they play this year.

“If we didn’t run away form it last year, I certainly don’t expect us to run away from it this year,” Maddon said. “Regardless, I just want us to prepare and do our job like we would normally on a daily basis. If another group has to become emotional to play us or beat us, that’s going to run out at some point, too.

“It’s a lot like what we did last year, where we don’t necessarily worry about thoughts like that.”

No matter how long they might be held hostage in St. Louis.


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