It is easy, in the aftermath of a 9-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Cardinals juggernaut, to point fingers inside the Dodgers clubhouse. To blame the series loss Yasiel Puig‘s outfield adventures or Clayton Kershaw for picking Game Six of the NLCS to have his worst game of the year. It isn’t much more complicated that. The Cardinals won Game Six handily and won the series, having beaten Clayton Kershaw twice. Once, they didn’t beat him as much as outlasted the Cy Young shoo-in. Last night he was bad and the Cardinals pounced.
The lame storylines grafted on top of this series only succeed in distracting from the immutable truth – the Cardinals were the better team over the last week. The Cardinals triumph should be recognized for what it is: nothing short of a player development miracle.
Now matter how many parochial newspapermen puff out their chests with Middle American pride, claiming a victory for the Everyman and the fly-over way, it doesn’t change the fact that so much of the Cardinals success is tied directly to ingenuity. Not a tired adherence to doing things the right way but a keen sense of taking the lay of the land and making good choices at nearly ever turn.
The Cards bested Clayton Kershaw in the new Cardinals Way – they strung together a series of line drives and posted a crooked number without hitting the ball out of the ballpark. They did the same thing to Pirates in the NLDS and they’ll likely to the same thing to whichever team opposes them in the World Series. They hung four on Kershaw in the third inning and posted a five-spot in the fifth frame, standard operating procedure for this offense. The Cardinals scored five or more runs in a single inning 22 times this season, the Dodgers did so only seven times.
The Cardinals posted more big innings than any team in baseball. More than the Red Sox, more than the Tigers; the only two teams to score more regular season runs than the Cards. The Cardinals, who hit 50 fewer home run than those two AL clubs, might be the perfect team for the current baseball environment – they contact zagged while everyone else is still zigging for power. Short swings to combat big arms and deadly change ups (a.k.a. the kind of pitcher currently overflowing from their pipeline.)
There is an element of luck involved, of course. Most Cardinals front office types will swear up and down they didn’t think Michael Wacha would be this good – not this quickly or at all, if they’re being honest. That isn’t the way scouting works. You don’t select a college pitcher in the middle of the first round and expect him to dominate baseball’s postseason barely two years later.
Nobody expected him to count more strikeouts than base runners allowed over his final six starts combined with an average fastball velocity above 94 mph. They could hope but they could never expect. There is scouting and there is player development and then there is good fortune – you cannot have the first two without the third element.
There was luck in the short term as well, as the Dodgers team St. Louis beat was barely a shell of its true self. With a hobbled Hanley Ramirez, a physically limited Andre Ethier asked to do things he can barely do at the best of times, and no Matt Kemp whatsoever; this all helps the Cardinals cause, even if it lands on the cutting room floor of The Only News Outlet in Our Town’s “Us vs. Them” feature column.
But that is the nature of postseason baseball. Win a couple one-run games, squeak out another tight victory and you’re through. So through go the Cardinals, back to the World Series for the fourth time in ten years. A completely different Cardinals franchise than the famous star-laden teams from the Albert Pujols glory years. Most amazingly, this is a very different club from the one that won the World Series just two years ago!
Only one pitcher will pitch in both the 2013 World Series and the 2011 World Series with birds on a bat across his chest – Lance Lynn. A complete overhaul of the strongest facet of this team’s game in less than two calender years. Less turnover on the offensive side of the ball but still, the term “player development miracle” is not out of place. Rookies and distant draft picks, position players converted to new homes to fill holes. It is not the only way to build a team but it sure looks nice when laid out before us like this.
So try to ignore the sneering columns from both sides of the “aisle”, as it were. Push through the Best Fans in Baseball crap and the claims that the Dodgers lost or Yasiel Puig was everything awful just as promised and take a second, before the World Series begins, to acknowledge the Cardinals were the better team. They beat the best pitcher and got great performances all over the diamond. They won this series much more than the Dodgers lost it.
Whichever team emerges from the American League knows they have more than their hands’ full when the Cardinals roll into town. It’s enough to make you doff your cap and then puke-cry into it. The unholy alliance of admirable and insufferable. The Cardinals Way, all the way.