Tom Ackerman (@Ackerman1120)

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Make room for some red-clad fans at the Cubby Bear. And for those traveling north, be prepared for a raucous atmosphere at the corner of Addison & Clark.

It’s mid-September, and the Cardinals are going to Chicago with a chance to move into first place in the NL Central.

No, really. After beating the Reds 5-2 on Thursday, the Cardinals could be at least tied for the division lead if they sweep the Cubs at Wrigley Field this weekend. If they lose to the Mets tonight, the Cubs will only be two games ahead of the Cards with seven games remaining between the clubs. And don’t forget about the Brewers, who remain in the hunt and will be hosting the Marlins at Miller Park.

Pressure? No question.

Exciting? Absolutely.

The Cardinals weren’t supposed to be in
this position, the way things were going. A defensive miscue here, a baserunning blunder there. Missed opportunities at the plate. Blown assignments from the bullpen. The Cardinals, the team that used to play buttoned-up baseball, didn’t look like themselves and certainly weren’t capable of playing their way into the postseason that way.

But a baseball season is a looong season and it rewards those with patience. Cardinals management didn’t make a knee-jerk move, trading away prospects for high-level (and expensive) talent. They stayed the course, showing off their impressive depth at Memphis (AAA) by bringing in reinforcements to keep the momentum going forward.

Luke Weaver is the latest, the rookie starter who spun another beauty, allowed one unearned run on two hits in six innings. Weaver (6-1, 1.89 ERA) walked no one and struck out six. Yadier Molina has done a superb job of guiding the rotation, while delivering clutch hits throughout the second half of the season.

Molina was considered the MVP of this team until the arrival of Tommy Pham, the outfielder who saved the Cardinals. Pham connected for his 20th home run on Thursday, making him the first 20/20 performer in St. Louis since Reggie Sanders in 2004. But it was Pham’s attitude, his fierce competitiveness, that changed the Redbirds into a hard-charging team, flaws and all, that fans could be proud of. No excuses, just trying to be great every day.

Can the Cardinals be great for three straight days at Wrigley? Last season, they went 6-3 at the Friendly Confines. This year, that record has dipped to 1-5. But the Cubs never put the division away in the meantime, so here we are.

Get your popcorn. And your Tums.

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