So. I’d began writing the draft of a Hot Stove Preview for the Cardinals, but then I got lazy and completely forgot to finish it up. In the meantime, the Cardinals managed to solve their two biggest positional problems via trades and free agency.
Where does that leave this article? Good question. Obviously the Cardinals made a big splash this weekend, solidifying the middle of their infield by signing free agent Jhonny Peralta to a four-year deal worth $53 million. As some of my friends were hoping to land him, in discussions I brazenly threw out there I thought he was too expensive and risky for the Cardinals to make a move on him.
Turns out I know nothing about baseball, apparently.
After a less-than-stellar 2013 campaign and post-season, the Cardinals have sent David Freese to keep Albert Pujols company in Anaheim. In addition, they’re sending reliever Fernando Salas, who played a vital part in the Cardinals’ s011 championship season but has been used sparingly the last two years.
In exchange, the Cardinals get outfielder Peter Bourjos and 22-year-old outfield prospect Randal Grichuk.
If there was ever a faster turnaround from hero to goat, I don’t think I’ve seen it in Freese’s case. After setting the post-season record for RBI (21) in 2011, Freese was an All-Star in 2012, a finalist for the Gold Glove at third base, and posted a healthy OPS of .839 while hitting 20 home runs. This last season, Freese initially struggled with a back issue in April, and it seems he never really recovered. His OPS was a career low .721, and in the playoffs he hit just .178 with four RBI, all of them in the NLDS. Cardinals fans took the opportunity to rip Freese’s game apart and clamored for a trade. Freese is cost-controlled for the next two seasons, a plus for the Angels. On the downside, he’s also going to be 31 in April and thus, is at the end of most players’ statistical peaks for his career.
So. Here we are again, facing off with Boston for the World Series title, just like in 2004.
Or is it? As much as people are clamoring to call this a re-match, in all reality there too much about it that’s a re-match. The fact is, only one active player on each side was even around for that World Series (David Ortiz for the Red Sox, Yadier Molina for the Cardinals; while you could technically include Chris Carpenter, he also didn’t pitch in the post-season at all that year). Even the coaching staff is largely different.
I get the distinct impression many people will be picking the Red Sox to win it all, and to be honest, they’re a justifiable choice. They were an offensive juggernaut, and the fact that they have home field advantage is going to help them immensely if it goes six or seven games.
Having said that, let’s not count our boys out that quickly. Too many people have made that mistake already. I’m a staunch believer in the Cardinals, so I’m presenting a list for you (yes, you!) to use in your arguments against those who favor the Bostonians as to why this could be a different go-around. So the next time ESPN or some online know-it-all tries to use some crazy thing called stats against the Cardinals, you can throw it right back in their face.
First, they knocked out America’s Cinderella team in the NLDS. Despite Pittsburgh’s first winning season since 1992, they just couldn’t keep up.
Next came “America’s Team,” apparently. Perhaps the only other team with a comparable history to the Cardinals, the Dodgers boasted two of the best pitchers in the National League.
Our apologies, Dodgers fans, but we’re not really that sorry. Sure, Hanley Ramirez’s effectiveness was reduced thanks to an errant fastball. It wasn’t fair, right? Sure, except the Cardinals were missing a record-setting hitter with runners in scoring position ALL SERIES.
Oh, but Matt Kemp, the MVP runner up two summers ago (even I think he should have rightfully earned that award) has been injured and ineffective? That’s true. And the Cardinals have been missing their starting shortstop the entire season. And two of their three top starting pitchers to begin the season. And their closer. And their All-Star replacement closer.
Teams out of contention make excuses.
Legitimate contenders make plays.
And in Game 6, simply put, the Dodgers didn’t make the plays.
A throw home by Yasiel Puig that may have traveled further than that triple he managed to hit in LA.
A fielder’s choice by Mark Ellis that turned out to be the wrong one.
Wild pitches by the best pitcher in baseball right now.
But it wasn’t all the Dodgers’ fault.
The Cardinals haven’t been the model of consistency this series, but they came through when they had to.
Carlos Beltran making a HUGE catch in right field on Juan Uribe to rob him of a gapper. Cranking out three hits in the first five innings and driving in two runs. You want to see how right field is played, Puig? Watch that man right there.
Shane Robinson, the little-used utility man, managing two hits against Kershaw in his only start thus far this post-season.
Mike Matheny, in his second season managing the Cardinals, setting just the right lineup and rotation to get the team in. This guy could be managing this team for a long time.
And what about Michael Wacha? Not once, but twice outdueling Kershaw. How did 18 other teams pass him in the draft? Not giving up an earned run in the two biggest games of his career thus far. This is the stuff post-season legends are made of. His ERA this whole post-season? 0.43. You can thank Albert Pujols for getting Wacha since he was our compensation pick. So in a way, Pujols helped get the Cardinals to another World Series. Thanks, Albert!
And now the Cardinals stand alone, awaiting the outcome of the ALCS. Either way will be a rematch of a Series within the last ten years. Chances are you’ve seen those articles circling around Facebook and Twitter about hating the Cardinals. Maybe they pissed you off, maybe not. I for one took them in good stride.
Well let them hate.
Let them try to show the Cardinals how to play ball. It’s pretty hard to hear them as they’re sitting at home.
We are Cardinal Nation. And with us come the ghosts of post-seasons past. A triple coming against a no-doubles defense, a Texas leaguer over the infield the next inning. A fly ball into center field, and “We will see you tomorrow night.”
A curveball that fell off the table in New York.
A diminutive shortstop winning the World Series MVP.
A moonshot against Brad Lidge that hasn’t landed yet in 2005.
A home run into the right field bullpen in Game 6 of the 2004 NLCS, arms raised in triumph.
A left-handed home run off Tom Niedenfuer to walk off in the 1985 NLCS.
A World Series-record 17 strikeouts against Detroit in 1968.
A mad dash from first to home on a single.
A throw to second to catch Babe Ruth stealing to end the World Series.
This is Cardinals Nation.
4 to go.
That curveball. I’ve seen it somewhere before.
Watching Wainwright face down Alvarez in the ninth, once he got him 0-2, everyone knew, just knew, that filthy curveball was coming.
I bet you even Alvarez knew Uncle Charlie was coming to pay him a visit. And even so, he whiffed worse than I do when I ask for a girl’s number at the bar.
It’s interesting for the Cardinals to be the bad guy. The last two decades, the most hated team in baseball has been the New York Yankees thanks to their exorbitant payroll and their ability to win at all costs.
It’s been different the last few seasons, though. I guess success breeds envy. Envy breeds hatred. And so it seems everyone outside of St. Louis (not including those Cardinals fans who’ve migrated) has been
hoping praying for the Cardinals to stumble. Someone even set up a Twitter account to poke fun at the Best Fans In Baseball title.