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The ‘Underdog’ Label Could be the Best Thing to Happen to the Cardinals

Oddsmakers are rarely right when they pick a team as the favorite to win the World Series.

That’s what people tell you this time of year. They almost brag about it. These sports books make money hand-over-fist every year, but Johnny Prediction Pants can’t wait to tell you how wrong oddsmakers are.

Jason heyward
Jason Heyward signed with the Cubs following the 2015 season, citing the Cardinals’ lack of youth as a reason for his decision to leave St. Louis.

As if they’re actually making a prediction.

Odds aren’t meant to forecast anything and oddsmakers aren’t making any sort of proclamation. Granted, they’re not going to leave themselves open to being burned by a good team. Even though the Mets haven’t won consecutive division titles in franchise history and might take a step back this year after reaching the Fall Classic in 2015, you’re not going to see New York as a 200/1 long shot. Sports books aren’t reckless, after all.

But the way the books set World Series odds is more about public perception than how oddsmakers actually feel things will play out in the season.

That’s what makes the Cubs so intriguing.

Oddsmakers have the Cubs favored to win the World Series at five different sports books. Had I checked 10 sports books, I’m willing to bet the Cubs would have been favored at nearly all of those sites as well.

Even the most shortsighted Cardinal fans can understand the Cubs’ national hype.

Their lineup is loaded with young stars. Their pitching was excellent a year ago. They got better this offseason with the additions of Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.

Smart baseball men Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer built this team. Also, Joe Maddon manages the team. The guy turned the Cubs from a 73-win club in 2014, to a 97-win club in his first year on the job.

The Cubs are good with the potential to be great. They’re over-hyped, but there’s a reason why they’re the favorites to win it all. And if they’re the favorites, that makes the Cardinals an underdog this season.

Some in the “BFIB” groan at the mere mention of the Cards as an underdog, especially to the Cubs, viewing that statement as some kind of slight.

Don’t. Embrace it.

The Cardinals as an underdog? With their recent history of success? Enthralling.

Cardinals fans are aware of the question marks the team faces heading into the new season, none bigger than the health status of Yadier Molina.

Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Jaime Garcia, Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk all have health concerns as well. First base is unsettled, Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty are stepping into key roles, and both Kolten Wong and Matt Adams face potentially make-or-break seasons.

Plus: Mike Leake? That’s it? Mike Leake? No David Price? No Heyward? No David Price, Heyward and Justin Upton? But…the Cardinals have all that money?!

Bill Dewitt III and John Mozeliak are hoarding all the cash they got from the television contract instead of re-investing it back into the team! They owe the fans more! (You think I’m exaggerating but people were actually texting comments like these into our 101ESPN programs this winter.)

Here’s the thing though…Despite the question marks, the Cardinals are still damn good.

Hell, they’ve been fantastic when the bulls-eye has been consistently on their backs. How much fun is this team going to be to watch when they have a chip on their shoulders because everyone is hyping the Cubs?

Grichuk and Piscotty will go through their ups and downs, but so will Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell, especially as they’re trying to manage high expectations in the process.

The Cubs have an excellent pitching staff, one that didn’t receive nearly enough recognition a year ago, outside of Jake Arrieta’s accolades. But despite the questions facing the Cards’ staff, I’d still put their srarters up against the Cubs’ with all things being equal. I’d do the same with the Cards’ pen as well.

This is going to be fun, Cards fans. You can still demand excellence from the team and piss and moan when you feel as though the Cubs are getting too much attention.

But while you’re at it, embrace the fact that your team is going to play a different role this year.

If nothing else, with so much attention on the Cubs, maybe this is the year the idiots that continuously screw up the context of the “Cardinal Way” will finally stuff a cork in it. One could hope, right?

Pre-season World Series odds don’t have value if you view them as projections. They’re more like stock prices than anything, and right now the stock price on the Cubs is through the roof.

But that only means there’s value in a team like the Cardinals.

People might be buying low on them now, but being an underdog might suit them in the end.

More: Matt Carpenter Talks Staying in Leadoff and Playing Underdog to Cubs