Newspaper articles about run differential don’t win awards. On this, I assume, we can all agree. Shrugged shoulders and cocked heads vainly trying to explain strange phenomenon of the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals don’t excite the mythical creature known only as “casual fans.”
By virtue of the sheer volume with which “where did it all go wrong?/what does it all mean” articles litter the broadsheets of our world, we can only assume this sort of work gets results, even if it isn’t entirely honest.
The St. Louis Cardinals are a good-approaching-great team by any measure. The meat of their lineup is as meaty as any in the game. Their rotation is top-notch, injuries notwithstanding (or with standing, the Cards qualified for the post-season in two consecutive seasons without their best starter from the previous year.) The Cards pass the eyeball test (lots of famous names and acknowledged-to-be-good players) and they pass the math test (tied for first in the NL for fWAR as a team). Most telling, they are the defending World Series champions.
And yet, according to the purple prose of one St. Louis columnist, they are a scrappy group of upstarts with something to prove. What? Why? How?
In what surely amounts to The Greatest Game Story Ever Written, Bernie Miklasz of the St. Lous Post-Dispatch wastes little time positioning the Cardinals as something they are not: a ragtag bunch of put-upon victims.
The team with the scars was in trouble. This old and proud team needed to find a way out of the latest calamity. This flawed but resilient team was being pressured early by the Washington Nationals, the baseball rock stars who represent the game’s next generation.
Yes, losing the first game of a short series is troubling and not at all good for business. Failing to capitalize on the opposing starter’s overwhelming wildness is wasteful, yes, but calamitous?
Flawed but resilient? Every team is flawed, technically. The Cardinals have far fewer flaws than most teams, considering the lineup they trot out every day is one of baseball’s best and their Game One starter is an acknowledged beast who also posted one of the finest starts in his career on Sunday.
Their bullpen (and usage of said bullpen) could be classed as “less than optimal” but that owes to the simple fact that the Cards have better pitchers than those used in key situations. Again: first world problems of the highest order.
The defending champs were in danger, and no one else could save them now.
The St. Louis Cardinals would have to do it alone. They would have to respond in a way that champions do. They would have to rally in Game 2 of a National League division series before autumn left them behind.
What is the alternative here? Did the Cardinals reach the World Series last season thanks to the divine providence of some greater baseball deity? Did outside forces conspire to shove the Cards to another plane of existence, operating outside their physical bodies in a cosmic ballet with baseball a mere afterthought? No? They just played a bunch of baseball games and won? That was my suspicion but you can never be so sure.
It was Monday afternoon, and the imposing shadows at Busch Stadium settled over home plate, deepening like a sad and unshakeable mood. Later, we would learn that the shadows provided valuable cover for the Cardinals.
The shadows! The shadows provide cover all right, they provide the kind of convenient narrative cover for a columnist groping for an angle. The shadows which “saved” Jaime Garcia, he of the wonky shoulder who started Game 2 for the Cardinals, from certain death, as the Nationals could not see his pitches.
Luckily for the Cards, the shadows dissipated during their half at the plate, allowing them to bang out ” a sequence of line drives and base hits that pushed the visitors back.” What great fortune for the shadows to completely flummox one team while the other is utterly unaffected! Perhaps a higher power did, in fact, heed the Cardinals call for assistance.
The Cardinals responded to every challenge, and the most serious threat came from within. Garcia’s aborted start meant that the bullpen would have to cover seven long innings. There’s always a chance for a collapse, but the St. Louis bullpen was sturdy and sound.
Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Trevor Rosenthal combined to hold the Nats to three runs over seven innings. Just an outstanding job.
That the St. Louis Cardinals are able to turn to an eighteen-game winner, a pitcher who first figured prominently into their run to the World Series as a reliever then made 29 starts in which he allowed fewer than four runs per nine innings is exactly the kind of depth of talent which makes this entire “flawed but resilient” line so rich.
The team is resilient because they have talent. Lots of talent! The kind of talent that sends a pitcher like Lance Lynn to the bullpen and allows a team to lose Albert Pujols to free agency, Lance Berkman to injury and still not miss a beat. Talent does that. The Cardinals are incredibly adept at identifying talent. For what it is worth: the relievers Bernie listed by age: 25,24, 28, 28, 21. That doesn’t exactly jive with the “old dogs” thing Bernie went with to start the piece.
What we saw in Game 2 was a dramatic, emphatic response by a veteran team that doesn’t want to go home. It’s a determined team with a willingness to fight back.
That’s what you saw? Because I saw a team jump all over an ineffective starter, smack four home runs while their bullpen gamely held it together for seven innings. In the Cardinals I see a team that replaces its injured 25-year old starter with a 21-year old blue chip prospect. I see a team with an MVP candidate behind the plate, one of the best outfielders in baseball in left and one of the finest post-season performers in BASEBALL HISTORY in right field.
The Cardinals are stubborn. They make it difficult for themselves. They get into jams. It looks bad. It’s been happening all season. But don’t count them out. Don’t tell them that they’re done. Desperation makes them dangerous.
After Game 2, the young Nationals know what they’re in for. The scarred team won’t go quietly. The old and proud team won’t go without a fight.
Once again, the flawed but resilient team has emerged from the shadows.
Stubborn? How is a baseball team stubborn? They only stubborn thing I see is the manager’s stubborn insistence on sacrifice bunting with some of their great hitters. Flawed but resilient and also laden with talent. Lurking in the shadows of all their World Series flags. When will this poor team, with only 10 post-season appearances in the Wild Card era, catch a break?