Oct 23, 2013, 11:59 AM EDT
BOSTON — There seems to be quite a bit of talk about continuity going into this year’s World Series. Well, hey, it’s the Cardinals and the Red Sox again. Fourth time. That was the matchup in ’46, with Stan Musial and Ted Williams, Enos Slaughter and Johnny Pesky, Red Schoendienst and Bobby Doerr and that whole cast of characters.
That was the matchup again in ’67, the Impossible Dream Red Sox and the awesome Cardinals. Nobody could get out Lou Brock. Nobody could get out Carl Yastrzemski. Jim Lonborg proved almost unhittable. It was a last hurrah for Roger Maris. In the end, an indomitable Bob Gibson decided who was better.
And then, one more time, 2004, the Cardinals won 105 games, most for the franchise since the end of World War II. They were a dominant team. But the Red Sox had 86 years to make up for, and they had just vanquished the Yankees in the greatest postseason comeback in baseball history, and they rolled to a four-game World Series sweep.
Yes, there’s a lot of talk about the history — Red Sox and Cardinals all over again.
Except, if you think about it in a different way, this series is more about how much baseball changes than how much it stays the same. Think about the last time we saw these two teams in the World Series. For the Red Sox, that was 2007 when they swept the Rockies. For the Cardinals, that was 2011 when they beat the Rangers in a stirring and disjointed series.
If you asked at the time, who would have been the key player on each team?
For the Cardinals, clearly, it was first baseman Albert Pujols. He was still widely regarded as the best player in baseball.
For the Red Sox I think, it was general manager Theo Epstein, who had found a way to marry Moneyball tactics with big market resources to build what many thought would be the baseball superpower of the 21st Century.
If you had told fans at the time that, soon after, Pujols and Epstein would leave — people could see it coming with Pujols — they would have panicked. They would have expected a great fall. After all, both men seemed utterly irreplaceable. Who could do what Pujols did? They called him The Machine because year after year after year he hit .330, and he walked 90 or 100 times, and he scored 120 runs and he hit 40 doubles and he hit 40 home runs and he played great defense. He was the heart of the team, he was the soul of the team, he was the engine of the team.
And two years after he left, the Cardinals are back in the World Series.
Theo’s excellence was more subtle, but nobody missed it. Epstein built an organization around advanced thinking (with one of baseball’s great revolutionaries, Bill James, working for the team) AND around their advantages as one of baseball’s richest teams. One of the 2007 team’s best players was a little second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, who the Red Sox had taken in the second round of the 2004 amateur draft because they didn’t fall for the conventional wisdom that he was too small. Their best hitter, David Ortiz, had been discarded by the Minnesota Twins — they had not seen him clearly. Meanwhile, they were also spending a fortune on established superstars like Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling. All together, it seemed like Epstein and the Red Sox had beaten the system — they were smarter AND they were richer.
And two years after he left, the Red Sox are in the World Series.
In baseball, more than any other sport, teams win championships. Not individuals, I don’t mean that baseball is more about teamwork than football or basketball or hockey or soccer— that isn’t true. Those sports rely more on teamwork than baseball does. Football in many ways is the ultimate team sport because everybody plays a different role.
No, I’m saying that in football one player — especially if he’s a quarterback — can define a team. A team with a great quarterback will win more games than a team with a lousy quarterback no matter how good the rest of the team might be. Obviously that’s true in other sports. LeBron James or Sidney Crosby or Messi, almost single-handedly, can turn a a bad team into a good one and a good team into a great one.
But in baseball, it really doesn’t work that way. The game’s structure prevents any one person from being too important. The world’s best hitter will still only come up one out of nine times. The world’s best starting pitcher will only pitch one out of every five days. The world’s best closer will (likely) pitch in the ninth inning. The manager cannot really design plays. The general manager cannot just go out and sign a couple of big free agents and win championships the way the Miami Heat did. The Angels tried that when they signed Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in back-to-back years. They went from 86 wins in 2011 to 78 wins in 2013.
The Cardinals are in the World Series because they combined some good veterans (Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday) with some excellent homegrown hitters (Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams) and built the best offense in the National League. Their rehab program with starter Adam Wainwright obviously worked wonders; he missed all of 2011 and two years later was again one of the two or three best starters in the National League. Their spectacular minor league system helped them build a spectacular bullpen with pitcher after pitcher throwing 100 mph darts. And the emergence of 21-year-old pitcher Michael Wacha, the Cardinals first round pick in last year’s draft, certainly has helped this postseason.
The Red Sox are in the World Series because a few of their mainstays — Pedroia, Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz — all had fantastic seasons. They made some very shrewd free-agent signings, picking up outfielder Shane Victorino and first baseman Mike Napoli and reliever Koji Uehara. All three of them had huge seasons. A big-money free agent who had looked like an all-time bust, John Lackey, finally got healthy and pitched well. A guy they plucked out of the Independent League a few years ago, Daniel Nava, had a superb year as did the well-traveled Jonny Gomes.
Which team will win? It’s so close. And it’s only seven games. It could come down to the Cardinals amazing bullpen, especially with the colder weather likely to dampen offense. It could come down to Fenway Park, where the Red had a .654 winning percentage during the season and have won three out of four in the postseason. It could come down to how well the Cardinals starters deal with a Red Sox lineup that, all the way through, works and frustrates and spoils pitches.
And it could come down to something entirely unforseen. That’s actually a pretty good bet. Both the Red Sox and Cardinals just dispatched teams with higher profile stars. The Red Sox beat the Tigers who will probably have this year’s American League MVP (Miguel Cabrera) and Cy Young winner (Max Scherzer) not to mention superstars Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder. The Cardinals sent home the absurdly-talented Dodgers with baseball’s best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and a cavalcade of stars like Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and so on.
People will say that this is a great feat, beating the team that is “more talented,” but I think the return of the Cardinals and Red Sox to the World Series tells a larger story: A talented baseball team is not a team that has a few talented players. It is the team that has talent everywhere, even in places you do not see. It’s the team with talented scouts, talented coaches, talented medical people, talented analysts, talented management, talented players top to bottom.
You will often hear that the Miguel Cabrera has to be the league MVP because the Tigers would not have made the playoffs without him. But I wonder if that’s true. Miguel Cabrera is to Detroit what Albert Pujols was to St. Louis. One player, no matter how great, can only do so much. That, to me, is what this World Series is about.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:28 PM EDT
Good news out of Dodgers camp Monday from MLB.com beat reporter Ken Gurnick … Greinke threw a bullpen session Monday and apparently felt no discomfort in his right calf muscle. He then went through some fielding drills and could pitch in an exhibition game this week, perhaps as early as Wednesday, although club officials are…
Mar 10, 2014, 7:14 PM EDT
White Sox manager Robin Ventura confirmed what everyone had already assumed Wednesday, naming ace lefty Chris Sale the club’s Opening Day starter according to Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Sale, the obvious choice for Ventura, boasts a spectacular 2.97 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 9.5 K/9 in 500 2/3 career major league innings. He tossed…
Mar 10, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
Cole Hamels arrived at the Phillies’ spring training complex last month with tendinitis in his left shoulder and then suffered a setback last Friday. He’s hoping this week will finally bring some amount of progress. CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury reports that Hamels is scheduled to toss a bullpen session Wednesday in camp. The ace left-hander had…
Mar 10, 2014, 5:32 PM EDT
No battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and with the Braves’ plans quickly becoming inoperative, they may be jumping in to the Ervin Santana uncertainty. Dave O’Brien of the AJC reports: Initially I didn’t think there was anything to the idea of the Braves pursuing him, but now with Beachy having more issues (he left today’s…
Mar 10, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
You can buy an official MLB baseball for, like, $15 max. Or you can let your kid go flying down a hill in is wagon while you go chase a home run ball in a meaningless spring training game: Either way, really.
Mar 10, 2014, 3:06 PM EDT
The Braves looked great on paper heading into spring training. Too bad they don’t play baseball on paper. They play it on grass and dirt, and since they started doing that Atlanta has had two pitchers leave games early due to injury. Kris Medlen left a game yesterday due to a forearm strain. He’s having…
Mar 10, 2014, 1:32 PM EDT
Barry Bonds showed up at San Francisco Giant camp in Scottsdale today, where he will begin a week as a coach/instructor. As I type this, he’s sitting with Bruce Bochy for a press conference. Barry Bonds back in a Giants uniform. pic.twitter.com/x4AJ0ZhJmt — Pedro Gomez (@pedrogomezESPN) March 10, 2014 Having a guy who is among…
Mar 10, 2014, 12:18 PM EDT
Initial reports of Aledmys Diaz‘s deal with the Cardinals suggested he’d be getting at least $20 million over four seasons, but Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch now writes that the Cuban shortstop is getting significantly less upfront money. According to Goold it’s a four-year, $8 million deal, which is essentially utility infielder…
Mar 10, 2014, 11:21 AM EDT
The Fresno Grizzlies are going to wear an alternate/promotional jersey this year. They’re Awesome! Righteous! Bossa Nova! Um, Chevy Nova? No, they’re excellent! .@MattOtstot has the details on our #TMNT jerseys. Only place to get the scoop is tomorrow on @KSEE24 Sunrise. pic.twitter.com/QBZQl9zQD1 — Fresno Grizzlies (@FresnoGrizzlies) March 10, 2014 No, they’re not dignified or anything, but you can’t…
Mar 10, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Among the numerous Ervin Santana rumors swirling right now is that the Orioles remain in the mix to sign the free agent right-hander. Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com asked Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette about that specific rumor and his response was an interesting one: I really don’t know what’s real and…
Mar 10, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Sergio Romo has been one of the best relievers in baseball for six seasons now, posting a 2.27 ERA and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings for his career, but he’s gotten knocked around this spring while allowing 12 runs in three innings. That includes retiring zero of the five batters he faced in his last…
Mar 10, 2014, 9:47 AM EDT
Brandon Phillips‘ interview with MLB.com was noted mostly for his “how the [expletive] am I declining” comment, but John Fay of Cincinnati.com notes that Phillips is either lying or deluded about something else too: the source of his beef with local reporters. Phillips is not talking to the four daily beat guys who cover the…
Mar 10, 2014, 9:20 AM EDT
Matt Ehalt reports that Ike Davis now has a walking boot on his right leg. Davis has been sidelined with right calf tightness for a week. Walking boots tend not to suggest that the matter is improving. Between Davis’ calf and Lucas Duda’s hamstring barking, it would seem that the frontrunner for the Mets’ first base…
Mar 10, 2014, 8:52 AM EDT
David Laurila of FanGraphs has a fascinating interview with a former pitcher — now retired — about his PED use. It’s not clear whether this guy was a major leaguer, but his comments about PED use — extremely detailed comments about what they did for him and how they made him feel — refer to his…
Mar 10, 2014, 6:50 AM EDT
This is so weird. No one is supposed to take pictures or video in the clubhouse, yet here we have video of Juan Uribe at his locker. Seems odd. Oh, hello Hanley.
Mar 9, 2014, 11:30 PM EDT
ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted earlier that Ichiro Suzuki appears to be the odd man out in the Yankees’ outfield and adds that the Phillies could use outfield help. The Yankees, of course, will have recent free agent additions Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran in center and right, respectively, and Brett Gardner in left. Alfonso Soriano…
Mar 9, 2014, 10:25 PM EDT
The Diamondbacks took Trevor Bauer in the first round, third overall, in the 2011 draft. They sent him to the Indians in a three-team trade in December 2012. Manager Terry Francona sees why, even after Bauer has had back-to-back mediocre showings in limited Major League action, the D-Backs took him so early. Bauer has made…
Mar 9, 2014, 9:20 PM EDT
In today’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo writes that the Twins have interest in White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza. 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson reported on Friday that some in the Twins’ front office are fans of De Aza’s. The White Sox will use De Aza as a utility outfielder with Dayan Viciedo…
Mar 9, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Jorge De La Rosa will be the Rockies’ Opening Day starter, Troy Renck of the Denver Post reports. The Rockies haven’t made an official announcement yet. It doesn’t come as much as a surprise as his only real competition for the honor was Jhoulys Chacin, but Chacin is dealing with a shoulder strain and may…
Mar 9, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that the Padres and third baseman Chase Headley appear unlikely to agree to a contract extension before he heads into free agency. The club offered him an unknown amount over the winter, but talks dissipated. Headley had a breakout season in 2012, finishing with an .875 OPS and a…
- Kris Medlen leaves game with right forearm strain 18
- Cardinals sign Cuban middle infielder Aledmys Diaz to a four-year major league contract 60
- Cardinals and Matt Carpenter agree to a six-year, $52 million extension 12
- Jet Blue Park is absolutely incredible 59
- Gary Nolan one of many careers saved by Dr. Frank Jobe 17
- Ian Kinsler hopes Rangers go 0-162, calls GM a “sleazeball” (132)
- Albert Pujols was insulted when someone asked him if he can put up Mike Trout numbers (103)
- The politics of “The Cardinal Way” (67)
- Brandon Phillips: “How the [expletive] am I declining?” (61)
- Reporter calls Ian Kinsler as self-absorbed as A-Rod (60)