“30 Teams, 30 Posts” (2016): Will the Cardinals finally miss the playoffs?

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post (of varying amounts of seriousness) about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2016 season. Earlier installments can be found here. This is the Cardinals’ entry.

In 2010, the St. Louis Cardinals went 86-76, and missed the playoffs.

They have made it every year since then. They are now the playoff constant that the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees once were. And yet, in the tough NL Central, it’s entirely possible that this season may see them finally miss the postseason for the first time since that 2010 team.

It’s not that the Cardinals will be bad, so much as that they are in the NL Central, with the Cubs and the Pirates. They also are, slowly, getting older. Matt Holliday is 36. Adam Wainwright is 34. Yadier Molina is 33 and those catching legs can’t be in the best shape. The Cubs and Pirates are younger, the Brewers are on their way up (although it’s doubtful they will be a threat this season). The window maybe, just maybe, could be closing.

On the other hand, these are the Cardinals. They excel at beating expectations. The “Devil Magic” may never stop.

Or will it?

“30 Teams, 30 Posts” (2015): So, are the Cardinals the “Best Fans in Baseball”?

In 30 Teams, 30 Posts, I write a post about every MLB team in some way in the lead-up to the beginning of the 2015 season. Previous installments can be found here.Today, we look at the evidence for and against the claim that St. Louis is home of the “Best Fans in Baseball”.

It is often said that St. Louis is the home of the “Best Fans in Baseball”. But how true is that claim? Let’s look at the evidence for and against such a claim:

FOR:

  • A Wall Street Journal article on what cities get the best TV ratings for each sport (and not just for their home teams, but for nationally televised games in general) had St. Louis as the top location for baseball.
  • The Cardinals were the top-rated (as far as percentage) team in baseball locally/regionally last season.
  • Former Commissioner Bud Selig said so, and no matter what you say about Selig, it can’t be argued that he probably had been to every stadium in the league, probably several times.
  • The Cardinals were second in attendance last season, behind only the Dodgers, who have a larger stadium and a much larger fanbase numerically. They have averaged over 40,000 fans every year except once since 2005 and been in the top four in NL attendance every year except once since 1996.
  • Anecdotal evidence online says that the team leads the league in number of fans who keep score, to the point where the old Busch Stadium apparently showed score-keeping marks for batters so that people who had missed something could fill it in (I’m not 100% sure about this, but I remember reading it somewhere).
  • The Cardinals haven’t been last in the league in attendance since 1916.
  • And, yes, they do show an appreciation for good baseball, even, at times, when it’s an opponent doing it.
  • They count Ellie Kemper and Jon Hamm as members, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is awesome. Not really relevant to this discussion, just sort of throwing it out there.

Against:

  • St. Louis, despite it’s passion for the Cardinals, obviously wasn’t baseball-crazy enough to keep the Browns from moving back in the 1950s. Although, to be fair, the Browns almost perpetually were crummy.
  • The racist, homophobic and generally disgusting people showcased on the “BestFansStLouis”, which I refuse to link to for consideration of human dignity. However, it should be noted that every sports team has plenty of fans who are horrible bigoted a-holes, it’s just that they don’t have Twitter accounts devoted to them.
  • It was Tywin Lannister of Game of Thrones fame that said: “Any man who must say ‘I am King’ is no true king.” With that in mind, one must wonder if any Cardinals fan who calls the Cardinal faithful the “Best Fans in Baseball'” is truly worthy of being called the Best Fans In Baseball.
  • Have overlooked the flaws of many of the team’s great players and managers, such as steroid use, drinking, etc. etc. Although, again, this is true for every single team’s fanbase.
  • It is nearly impossible to truly figure out who the best fans in anything are, since there are so many things to consider and ultimately it is a vague intangible title that can change based on definition, a team’s fortunes, and other factors.

So, the verdict is… Cardinals fans are likely, but not definitely, the Best Fans in Baseball. But as the last “against” proves… it really doesn’t matter.

2014 SEASON PREVIEW (PART 10): Predictions for the Season, without any further explanations (except one)

It’s time. Who will be the division winners? Who will win the World Series? Time to see my predictions… without further explanation (except for one).

 

AL East: Boston Red Sox

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Texas Rangers

AL Wild Cards: Tampa Rays, Oakland Athletics

AL Champion: Detroit Tigers

NL East: Washington Nationals

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: LA Dodgers

NL Wild Cards: Reds and Giants

NL Champion: St. Louis Cardinals

 

And finally….
World Series Champion: St. Louis Cardinals

 

So why do I think the Cardinals are going to win it all this year? Well, it’s partly my gut, but there is also plenty of good logic behind it. While they have lost Carlos Beltran, the fact remains that their young players- and they have some good ones- will be one more year experienced. And, what’s more, many of those young players are pitchers (such as 2013’s postseason hero Michael Wacha and fire-balling reliever Trevor Rosenthal), and as always pitching is the way to October success. Mix that with their experienced players like Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday, and you have a team that should be one of the favorites to win the World Series in 2014.

Bizarre Baseball Culture: Ozzie Smith doesn’t need a plot, he just needs GRIT and TONY THE TIGER

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

Today in Bizarre Baseball Culture, we are looking at Ozzie Smith and Tony the Tiger in “The Kid That Could”.

Yes, Ozzie Smith and Tony the Tiger. And I don’t mean Tiger as in “Detroit Tigers”. I mean… THIS:

OzzieTonyCoverYes, this is an actual thing. There was an actual comic book published by DC in 1992 in which Ozzie Smith and Tony the Tiger teamed up. Have your attention yet? Go below the jump for more:

Continue reading

Random Thing: Captain Marvel meets the 1944 Cardinals

Miss Bizarre Baseball Culture? Don’t worry, it’ll be back soon, but to hold you over, here’s a bit from Captain Marvel Adventures #36, from June 1944, in which Billy Batson (who transforms into Captain Marvel with one cry of SHAZAM!) meets some of movers-and-shakers at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, including Dizzy Dean (who was an announcer for the Browns at the time) and HOF Cardinals manager Billy Southworth.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 2.36.21 PMIt’s not quite teaching baseball to Martians, but maybe it’ll hold some of you over.

Humor: The Laws of Game 7s

Tonight is one of the greatest events in any sport: a Game 7. While I messed up and assumed that Adam Wainwright was starting tonight, it does not change the fact that it’s a Game 7. Win or lose, do-or-die, victory means the World Series, defeat means an early tee-time or a day out hunting something other than hanging curveballs.

So, with all of that in mind, it’s time to go over the LAWS OF GAME 7.
(Note: This is humor, and not all of them are meant to be serious.)

Rule One: All Hands on Deck

This is a rule for the managers. During Game 7, all hands are on deck. And I do mean all. Everyone needs to be ready to pitch: starters, relievers, outfielders who were stud pitchers back in High School… remember, there is no tomorrow if you lose. If you have to teach your backup catcher a knuckleball on short notice in the 24th inning, you do it.

Rule Two: Nothing else is on television during a Game 7.

There’s a debate on tonight. The Bears and Lions are playing tonight. Neither will be seen on my television, unless there is a rain delay. Apologies to the President of the United States and the esteemed ex-governor of Massachusetts.

By the way, can you imagine if tonight was an ALCS game between the White Sox and whatever Mitt Romney’s favorite team is (I’m presuming either the Tigers or Red Sox)?

Presumably it would mean stuff like this:

“Mister President, I have a question on China, and, by the way, it’s tied at two in the fifth…”

Rule Three: Everything that has ever happened in a Game 7 is relevant.

Oh, sure, it may seem like past Game 7s are unimportant to this current situation, but they are not. Carlos Beltran, for example, struck out to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, when he was with the Mets. Matt Holliday may end up missing tonight’s game with an injury- he also missed Game 7 of last year’s World Series with an injury. Allen Craig hit a home run in last year’s World Series Game 7. The Giants have never won a best-of-7-series Game 7, falling in seven games to the Angels in 2002’s World Series, the Cardinals in the 1987 NLCS, the Yankees in 1962 and the Senators in 1924! The ghosts of Octobers past will be remembered!

Rule Four: Rain doesn’t matter.

It could rain tonight. But, guess what, the World Series is starting Wednesday, and the Tigers need to know where to fly to. Therefore, as Jayson Stark says:

Rule Five: There are no rules.

And anything can happen. That’s the beauty of Game 7.

Which team could “take” the Tigers? It could depend on how the LCS ends.

Well, thanks to Barry Zito’s vintage performance last night, the Giants have forced the Cardinals back to San Francisco, where St. Louis and Chris Carpenter will have to beat Ryan Vogelsong in Game 6, or, failing that, will have to hope that they and Adam Wainwright can outdo Matt Cain in a climactic Game 7. In other words, it’s a whole new series that could go either way.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, the Tigers, having already swept away the complacent Yankees, are going to stay sharp by scrimmaging their Instructional League team. The Instructional Leagues are semi-formal affairs to get low-level minor leaguers- generally those who played in the short-season leagues- some more experience. It’s a win-win: the Tigers will be able to remain sharp, and the minor leaguers will be able to test themselves against, well, some of the best players on the planet.

So, assuming nobody gets hurt, the Tigers will still be relatively fresh against whoever the National League sends out against them. So, who would have a better shot against Detroit?

I’m not sure, but I feel like it would be the Cardinals. Well, unless if they have to win in seven games, in which case I’d probably go with the Giants. Well, maybe.

Here’s what I mean:
Game 1 of the World Series will be Wednesday, weather permitting. The Tigers will be starting Justin Verlander, probably followed by Scherzer, Fister and then Anibal Sanchez. A formidable group for any team.

If the Cardinals win Game 6 on Sunday, their rotation would likely have Adam Wainwright leading off, followed by Kyle Lohse (or maybe Lance Lynn)  on Thursday and then Chris Carpenter for Game 3 on Saturday. Given the fact the Cardinals have a better bullpen than the Tigers seem to have (so, is Coke officially the closer now?), this would give them a decided series advantage if the Tigers’ starters were to stumble.  But if they have to go 7, they will be stuck with sending Lohse/Lynn in the first two games with their two aces having to be held back for games 3 and 4. Sure, they will still have the bullpen and their playoff-veteran defending-championship lineup, but going against Verlander and Scherzer with your third and fourth starters seems like a recipe for going down 0-2.

By contrast, the Giants, although they will, by necessity, be unable to use Cain and Vogelsong in games 1 and 2 if they advance, will still have some good pitchers who can fill the shoes. Barry Zito, for example, still can “have it” like he did last night, and he is a veteran. Few would argue about him starting a Game 1. Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum both are covered with question marks, but I’d probably rather pick between those two guys than possibly having to send out Lance Lynn against Miguel Cabrera and friends, especially after the number that the Giants offense did against him last night (with significant aid of an errant throw off second base by Lynn).

Finally, although it was admittedly an extremely small sample size, various Giants were able to get to Justin Verlander during this year’s All-Star Game. Again, extremely small sample size (and Verlander admitted later he wasn’t pitching it like he would a regular season or playoff game), but you do have to wonder if that might give the Giants something of a psychological edge.

Or maybe Verlander and the other Tigers pitchers will just embarrass whatever team comes against them, just as they did their 1966 Orioles vs. 1966 Dodgers impression on the Yankees. Actually, that might be the most likely outcome, isn’t it?

How the series look right now

It is, as I have noted before, almost impossible to predict October. Who would have thought, for example, that Derek Jeter would get hurt, that Robinson Cano would enter a record-breaking slump, or that the Reds would lose three straight at home to the Giants to end their season.

However, already we are getting some indication of how the rest of the two series might go.

ALCS: The Yankees are in big trouble. Very, very, big trouble. They can’t hit to save their lives, the one guy they had who was hitting (Jeter) is down for the count, they lost the first two games of the series at home. No team has ever come back from an 0-2 deficit in the Best-of-7 LCS when those two losses came at home. And, what’s more, there odds of winning game 3 must be considered perilously low, as they will be facing Justin Verlander. Perhaps they would have a good chance in Game 3 had they been able to run out C.C. Sabathia against him, but instead they will be sending out Phil Hughes. Hughes is hardly a scrub, but no sane man would say they’d want him on the mound instead of Verlander, especially in Comerica Park, which favors the pitcher.

With that in mind, one would probably want to say that the Tigers are in the driver’s seat. However, that would probably be overestimating things. You see, although it looks like the Tigers have this series in the bag, that isn’t necessarily true. If Verlander has a bad day (or Hughes has an unusually great day), they could very well lose tomorrow’s Game 3. They would then be facing C.C. Sabathia. Admittedly, the Tigers would be sending out Max Scherzer, who, while no Sabathia, would definitely have good odds of being able to meet and defeat the Yankees than Phil Hughes is to do the same against Verlander and the Tigers.

Even if the Yankees were to somehow win the next two games though, I would have to say the advantage still would preside with the Tigers. The reason, much like the reason they should be considered heavily favored tomorrow, lies with Verlander. Verlander would be pitching any Game 7… and Sabathia wouldn’t (at least, not on normal rest).

Advantage: Tigers

NLCS: This series has only gone one game, and given how nuts last night’s game was, as well as the many twists and turns the NLDSes (NLDSii?) were, it may seem folly to predict what may still lie in store. One thing is for certain though: the Giants would be greatly helped if they win tonight. As I said earlier, losing the first two games at home in a LCS series is almost a death sentence, although admittedly the Giants were able to survive a similar situation in the NLDS. The result tonight is extremely up in the air: on paper, one would think having Ryan Vogelsong on the mound would put one in a better position than Chris Carpenter, who although the better pitcher only had limited playing time this year due to injury (it is a bit of a miracle that he is playing at all right now).  Carpenter, though, has done very well in the postseason so far, throwing 5.2 in his NLDS start without giving up a earned-run. Still,

Past tonight and Game 3 (when Matt Cain will presumably start), though, the Giants are facing a somewhat chaotic pitching situation. Madison Bumgarner has been dreadful this October so far, Barry Zito struggled greatly in his NLDS start, and Tim Lincecum was so dreadful during the later parts of this season (after seemingly recovering from first-half struggles) that he’s been used from the bullpen in the postseason. Although, admittedly, Lincecum has done very well out of the bullpen, so maybe he deserves another shot at starting this year. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have a relatively stable starting pitching staff, and they have Carlos Beltran and David Freese, players who have always (and are) stepped up in October.

So, come to think of it, maybe it’s more clear that I thought that it’s ADVANTAGE: CARDINALS.

 

On Infield Flies and Jeffrey Maier (OR: Why the Cardinals could win the World Series but would not be known for the infield fly play)

In baseball, little things can mean a lot. And those little things sometimes are forgotten by all but those who felt themselves wronged.

Some have had problems with how the St. Louis Cardinals benefited from the infield fly call in the NL Wild Card game. While it seems, after reflection and hearing from various experts on TV and online, that the call was technically correct, it struck me as not exactly fitting the spirit of the rules for the infield fly: the infield fly is meant to protect the runners from a possible double play, something I do not believe the Cardinals had any chance of pulling.

The game was protested, of course, and, just like (almost) every other protested game in history, the protest was denied. No matter what your opinion on that infield fly play, you cannot deny, however, that the Cardinals probably dodged a bullet: had there been no call, it is entirely possible they would have lost that game, and would not be headed into a series with Washington. Why, you almost have this sinking feeling that maybe, just maybe, the Cardinals are now going to go on a run to a championship. And you probably think that, for better or worse, they are going to be known as the team that won because of a possibly-incorrect infield fly call. Fans of the Braves and baseball in general may be in horror at the idea that such a thing could happen, and even some Cardinals fans probably are a bit worried that their team, if they go on a run, will probably go on to be remembered the “infield fly team.”

They probably are wrong. In general, only the losing teams are remembered in places where massive mistakes are made, and even then usually only if they themselves are the ones screwing up: the 1986 Red Sox may have lost the World Series because Billy Buckner couldn’t field a routine grounder (there had already been several things that had gone wrong, but it’s that image everyone remembers), the 2003 Cubs may have lost the NLCS because devoted Cubs’ fan Steve Bartman sort-of got in Moises Alou’s way (there is no guarantee he would have caught it, but you never know) and the 1919 Chicago White Sox lost the series because seven or eight players (depending on whether you count Buck Weaver) threw games. Nobody ever seems to associate the 1986 Mets, 2003 Marlins or 1919 Reds with those events, other than as background.

Given that the Orioles (!) and Yankees are about to meet up in the ALDS, a look at their shared history perhaps best illustrates this fact. I speak of the tale of Jeffrey Maier, a then-12-year-old who, in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, reached into the field of play and snagged a Derek Jeter fly ball that seemed destined for the glove of Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco (or, at the very least, the warning track- but not over the fence). Right-field umpire Rich Garcia said that it was a home run, tying the game at four and paving the way for an extra-innings Yankees win. The Orioles’ protest was denied. The Yankees went on to win the series, and the World Series. I was only six at the time, but even I remember thinking that it was some kind of cheating, as if the Yankees had hired that kid to be out there to rob Tony Tarasco, or something. I seem to recall grabbing a newspaper that had a photo of the play on it, grabbing a large red crayon, and drawing a big giant X through it, to show my disgust.

Hey, I was six. I’m not even sure if I had a clue what was going on, but I remember having that big crossed-out picture for awhile, so I must have known something.

Maier, meanwhile, became a pint-sized celebrity, appearing on late night talk shows, being given the Key to the City by Rudy Giuliani, and being generally hailed as a hero by the city, county and state of New York. This despite the fact that, by any measure whatsoever, Maier had done something illegal and helped, intended or not, the Yankees win (or, as six-year-old me would say, cheat) their way to victory. There must have been lots of interesting conversations in New York after that:
“Dad, can I reach out and grab the ball?”
“No, son, it’s against the rules. They’ll kick us out of the stadium.”
“But Jeff Maier did it, and he got to be on TV, and he got that giant key from the mayor!”
“Yes, son, but…”

However, as the years have gone on, Maier has become a footnote, remembered only by grateful Yankee fans, angry Oriole fans and completist baseball historians. He’s now grown-up, a married man and former college player who is involved with baseball off the field. When the 1996 Yankees are discussed, they aren’t called the team that possibly won the ALCS only because of the actions of a 12-year-old, they are known more for being the first title-winning club of the Derek Jeter era.

And this, likely, is what the future may hold for the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals. If they go on a run, as they did in 2006 and 2011, they will be known as a team that won the World Series despite having lost their future Hall-Of-Fame manager, their esteemed hitting coach, and their most famous and talented player in the previous off-season. They may also be known as the first franchise to win three World Series in the 21st century. But it is highly unlikely that anyone other than relieved Cardinal fans, angry Braves fans and completist baseball historians will think much of the infield fly call and whether the Cardinals had gotten lucky.

Because, the thing is, sometimes the lucky teams and the cheaters prosper. And when that happens, the little details that caused them to be lucky or caused them to be cheaters end up becoming footnotes, for better or worse.

So don’t sweat the infield fly, sports fans. Well, except for Braves fans. You’ve already done way more than sweat over it… but that’s another story.