There was a moment in the NLCS Game 6—probably after Albert Pujols’ 3rd inning homerun and before Yuniesky Betancourt’s 4th inning RBI double—when I began to wonder when the bloodletting would stop.
Game 6—along with the entire series, along with the ALCS, along with the entire postseason in both leagues—was a squealing pig having its throat sliced by steely-eyed butcher. You know, supposing that the pig had hemophilia.
But finally, after 18 combined runs and a never-ending parade of seemingly ill-prepared bullpen sacrifices, it was mercifully over. The St. Louis Cardinals were heading to their first World Series since 2006, their 18th overall appearance, and the Milwaukee Brewers—once champions of some nonsensical motivational slogan deemed “Beast Mode”—were left shaking their heads, wondering why big name offseason acquisitions like Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum were so decidedly terrible when it mattered most.
They like to say that pitching and defense wins championships; I think this is only partially true. As much as they want you to believe that the era of the big inning is over, and that power numbers have dropped dramatically in the face of rigorous drug testing, this is only half of the story.
Because for every fatigued, noodle-armed bullpen hack on his last go round, there’s a bulging-muscled third baseman at the plate. For every starter who has to ice his shoulder simply after popping open a can of beer in the clubhouse, while playing Xbox and eating Popeye’s— I’m looking at you, Boston Red Sox—there’s a chunky designated hitter whose sole purpose in life is to take a hanging breaking ball into the bleachers.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint, as the refried adage goes, and never has this been more apparent than in the 2011 postseason.
Gone are the Tampa Bay Rays, with their sparkling young pitching staff. So long, Phillies, with your insanely ludicrous looking rotation—arguably one of the best of all time— that broke down when it mattered most. In their stead, a collection of Godzillian sluggers capable of somehow managing to put it over the wall with a broken-bat check swing: Pujols, Berkman, Holliday; Hamilton, Kinsler and Cruz.
By my estimation, both teams have at least 4-5 guys who can literally blow a game wide open with one swing, who can control any contest with nothing more than four plate appearances. The same cannot be said of the pitching staffs of either squad.
St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter— the best starting pitcher on either team– looked shaky in his last start against the Brewers, going only 5 innings and giving up 3 runs.
And things weren’t much better for the Rangers. Aside from a respectfully decent ALCS outing from Matt Harrison, the other three starters—C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Derek Holland—combined for an average ERA of 7.23.
How’s that for pitching?
And defense? C’mon…
As B. Travern wrote in 1927’s classic novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre:
“Defense, to god-damned hell with defense! We have no defense. In fact, we don’t need defense. I don’t have to show you any stinking defense, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre!”
(Though my Spanish is admittedly rusty, I believe the last two sentiments are intended for Cardinals’ skipper Tony La Russa, specifically in relation to his aggravating super-micromanagement of the St. Louis bullpen… but hey, it works, right?)
So this time, unlike my Championship Series preview, there will be no wasted keystrokes examining the chasm between the opponents’ defense and pitching, between their hitting and fielding. Why? Because the bottom line is, this game will not be won with curveballs and cutters, by pitchers finessing the outside corner with a slow, elegant breaking pitch. This game will be decided with 425-foot blasts to the second deck of the Ballpark in Arlington, and doubles smashed off of the wall in New Busch Stadium.
For baseball purists—those who detest the DH and still keep their own score while watching the game—I say good luck. May your carpal not get tunneled as you feverishly scribble with your pencil nub in a vain effort to keep up.
This figures to be one hell of a ride.
And to those on Facebook and Twitter decrying an unexciting, lackluster matchup, I ask simply: are you high? Look, the Cardinals are the National League’s version of New York’s Evil Empire. In terms of championships, they’re second only to the Yankees. The Rangers? Never won one. Hey, it’s only the second time they’ve been.
Simply put, it’s a classic battle of good and evil, of the haves and have-nots. How can you not pick a side, I wonder?
And when the dust settles, and 7 games have passed, I hereby declare that we have a brand spanking new, first time World Series Champion. Shout it from the rooftops, people.
World Series Game 1, Wednesday 7:05 CT, Fox
Texas Rangers (Wilson) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Carpenter)