Small Consolation, or Small Potatoes?

The Cubs-Cardinals series at a glance.

The St. Louis Cardinals clinched their fourth NL Central title in the last six years at Wrigley Field on Thursday night with a 6-1 win over the Cubs.

That wasn't a surprise. The Cardinals have been in first place since April 16, when the Cubs were 5-6 and coming off a series-opening win at Pittsburgh.

The surprise lies within the Cubs' good performance against the Redbirds this season (despite Thursday's dragging defeat before 37,849 rain-soaked fans).

The Cubs are 8-5 against the Cardinals in 2005, including a 5-3 record at Busch Stadium where the former finished just 141-190 lifetime. (The Cardinals are moving into the "new" Busch next year.) The Cubs are also the only division foe to post a winning record against the Cardinals thus far in 2005.

With a victory against the Cardinals in this current four-game series, the Cubs will end the year with their first winning season against St. Louis since 2001. The Cardinals made the playoffs that year as the Wildcard despite finishing 8-9 against the Cubs, who have only three winning seasons against St. Louis since 1996.

In each of the last two times the Cubs reached the post-season, they lost the season series to the Cardinals, who both times failed to make the playoffs themselves. In 2003, Dusty Baker's team was 8-9 against the Cardinals, although what stands out most is the Cubs taking four of five from St. Louis at Wrigley Field in early September to essentially end the Cards' post-season chances.

In 1998, Jim Riggleman's Cubs team was just 4-7 against the Cardinals, and 0-5 at Busch Stadium.

This year, prior to Thursday's defeat, the Cubs were batting .294 against the team with baseball's best pitching staff. Cubs pitching meanwhile had posted a 3.07 ERA in their first 12 games against the Cardinals. Since the All-Star break, the Cardinals have lost only two series. Both have been to the Cubs.

And, in spite of the Cardinals dominance in the series over the past several years, the Cubs still hold the lead in the all-time series at 1,113-1,058.

As nice as it all sounds, it will unfortunately be the Cubs' 6-9 record against the fifth-place Cincinnati Reds, in addition to two eight-game losing streaks, that will likely stand out more than the team's dominance against their biggest rival in head-to-head play this season.

With the loss to the Cardinals on Thursday, the Cubs are now 6.5 games back of Houston in the Wildcard standings after dropping three of their last four games overall. Not mathematically eliminated, but inching closer by the day.

Realistically, only in college sports and the occasional family get-togethers do the true "bragging rights" truly stand out from year to year anyway.

Small potatoes.

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