Four years ago today, I was going on about four hours of fitful sleep. The night before, I and the rest of the baseball world witnessed one of the greatest games in the history of the World Series. After that game, I was so wired, so geeked I couldn’t fall asleep at all. Finally, after pounding out a delirious blog post, I managed to nod off…only to sit bolt upright the instant my alarm went off a few hours later, feeling as awake and alive as I ever have in my life. I ran into the other room to look at the two most exciting pieces of paper I think I’ve ever held.
I’m sure I managed to be productive at work that Friday, but I couldn’t tell you how. All I wanted to do was go to Busch Stadium, even hours before the game was supposed to start. I wanted to sit in my bleacher seat with a beer and 45,000 or so of my closest friends to watch Game 7 of the World Series. Even just saying the phrase “Game 7 of the World Series” gives me chills as a baseball fan; as a Cardinals fan about to walk into Busch Stadium to watch it live I was almost unable to process the sights…the sounds…the feeling.
None of us knew it at the time, of course, but a fan favorite (certainly one of mine) from the Whiteyball Era made his final appearance before Cardinal Nation and passed less than a week later.
After the previous night’s heroics, Game 7 lacked much drama beyond the first inning. The Rangers took the lead in top half, and David Freese once again swatted them back. Allen Craig—robbed of a World Series MVP by the All-Universe campaign Freese had—hit a home run and took one away with his glove. Chris Carpenter gutted out another start that would essentially prove to be his professional swan song. Jason Motte blocked out his previous struggles in the series to mow through the ninth. And when Craig secured the fly ball near the track for the final out…
It all happened four years ago today—my greatest baseball day.
Last night, baseball lore received a twist so ironic it borders on unbelievable—and only fans of teams other than the ones involved would think so.
The Seattle Mariners beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (still the dumbest name in baseball, by the way) 5-0 in a fairly pedestrian mid-July contest, except for the fact that the loss kept the Angels from leapfrogging the AL West-leading (!) Houston Astros in the standings. But two important plays in the game—one a rally-squashing catch; the other a strikeout to ice the victory for Seattle—seem otherworldly in the memories they stir up for fans of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers.
The Angels threatened in the top of the first, loading the bases with none out and the middle of the order looming. But two unproductive outs later, the bases were still loaded when David Freese stepped to the plate. Freese ripped a line drive to right-center that was hauled in with a spectacular diving catch by none other than Nelson Cruz.
Yep…that guy. Only, last night he actually made the game-saving catch on a well-hit David Freese liner.
If that wasn’t enough to make Cards and Rangers fans cringe—albeit for vastly different reasons—the end of the game certainly would.
The Angels couldn’t get much going after that deflating first inning, only putting together four hits on the night. But one of those was a two-out single by Erick Aybar.
Coming to the plate? David Freese.
Standing on the mound? Mark Lowe.
Yep…that guy. Only, this time Lowe struck Freese out to preserve the victory.
That these three players would cross paths again isn’t all that surprising, since it’s been less than four years since that fateful Game 6 night. But all three in the same game, where Cruz DOES make the crucial catch against Freese and Lowe DOES get the crucial out against Freese to end the game? That borders on absurd–not for Angels or Mariners fans, necessarily; for Rangers fans, who can only wonder what might have been…and for Cardinals fans, relieved at what actually was.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
The life of a transplanted baseball fan can be interesting, especially if transplanted to a city without a Major League team. The Austin, Texas area has plenty of Rangers and Astros fans, but because so many people continue to move here from other areas it’s not uncommon to see many different teams represented while walking down a busy street. Still, looks of confusion, bewilderment, or even contempt come my way from time to time when I’m representing the Cardinals in public.
This afternoon while out running errands I stopped in a local hooch parlor to pick up a beverage for this evening’s writing adventures. The store had a half dozen or so people milling about, but my mind was made up before I opened the door. I grabbed a bottle of 8 year Haitian Rum and headed to the register. A guy paying was counting out bills, one was behind him on a cell phone, and a third guy kept walking up to the counter to set down three bottles and then walking away to grab more. The cash counter completed his transaction and left right when cell phone guy ended his conversation, so I waved cell phone guy to go ahead of me.
Cell phone guy apparently has a credit card that pays homage to his favorite team, because when he handed it over the cashier said, “Oh, wow, you a Pirates fan? That’s cool, I respect them. I’m a Cubs fan.”
They had a quick exchange about how excited they both are that their respective teams are doing so well. I said nothing…I just waited for the right moment. As Cell Phone Pirates Fan finished his transaction and turned to leave, Cubs Fan Cashier said, “Yeah, man, good luck to your team. I have no hate for the Pirates. But I’d give you a hard time if you were a fan of the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or…”
I figured this was the perfect time to interject. But I said nothing—I simply took out my own credit card, emblazoned with the Birds on the Bat of course, and set it on the counter with a shit-eating grin on my face. Cubs Fan Cashier stopped mid-sentence and said, “Whoa…you a Cardinals fan?”
Cell Phone Pirates Fan, who was halfway out the door, whipped around with eyes as big as saucers. “No way! Are you really?”
Why yes…yes I am.
“Man, this weekend is going to be some series, huh?” Cell Phone Pirates Fan continued. “Or, at least, I hope it is, if you guys manage to lose a game or two!”
I replied, “I think they definitely lose one, but probably not two.” He chuckled and left.
I turned back to Cubs Fan Cashier just in time for him to hand me my receipt. I signed it and said, “So…how about that game last night?”
His smile faded. Mine broadened.
This rum is really good.
One year ago today, the St. Louis Cardinals made a trade that would have an enormous impact on the history of the franchise. General Manager John Mozeliak remade the bullpen and fortified the rotation and bench by acquiring relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski, starter Edwin Jackson, and outfielder Corey Patterson from the Toronto Blue Jays. Shipped up to Canada were pitchers PJ Walters, Brian Tallet, and Trever Miller along with centerfielder and former organizational “untouchable” Colby Rasmus.
Personality and hustle issues aside, Rasmus was a young and talented cost-controlled player and three of the four players the Cards received from Toronto would be free agents at the end of 2011. This was a win-now move by Mozeliak, and win the Cardinals did. But both franchises involved in this deal felt immediate impact. In case you need reminding, this trade largely led directly to the following for the Cardinals:
And, not to be outdone, this trade led directly to the following for the Blue Jays:
Well played, Mo…well played.
Less than a month ago, the St. Louis Cardinals capped off one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history by defeating the Texas Rangers in an epic World Series. In this day and age, finding video and audio replays of any baseball game is as easy as pulling up an internet browser on the nearest online device. But for an expertly assembled package of storytelling, highlights, interviews and emotion, the only true option is Major League Baseball Productions’ presentation of The 2011 World Series Film, which is now available in a two-DVD set (the Blu-Ray version is available December 6).
Disc one features the official film, narrated by actor and St. Louisan John Hamm. The film starts on the St. Louis Riverfront, with the iconic Gateway Arch making an immediate appearance as the stage is set for the telling of the ups and downs of the Cardinals’ 2011 season. Obviously, early in the year, there were more downs than ups as Hamm guides the viewer through the Adam Wainwright injury and Albert Pujols contract drama that overshadowed the team from the beginning of Spring Training. Next is footage of Ryan Franklin giving up a late-game home run and Colby Rasmus bobbling a fly ball that turns out to be the game-winning hit for the opposition. Seems like eons ago, doesn’t it?
But these nasty memories are merely part of the set up. The film briefly covers the big trade with Toronto, the Rafael Furcal acquisition, and the sweep by the Dodgers—the last low point of the season. From there, the chasing down of the Atlanta Braves over the regular season’s final five weeks culminates in the Cards celebrating their NL Wild Card clincher after Chris Carpenter’s gem in Houston and the Braves’ loss in Philadelphia while the Cardinal players watched in the Minute Maid Park visitor’s clubhouse.
From there, the film summarizes the Cards’ NLDS win over the Philadelphia Phillies and NLCS win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Throughout the show, broadcasts from TV and radio are seamlessly merged with Hamm’s narration so the story feels like it’s told from multiple angles. When significant records were tied or broken throughout the year and the postseason, a graphic appears illustrating the feat. The editing and production on this film is nothing short of superb, and it adds an element of dramatic flair not found in straight highlights and replays from the games themselves.
But the real story here is the World Series, and not surprisingly, that’s where the detail in the story explodes. Each of the series’ seven games gets a long segment, and each game’s story is built up with a relevant introduction. For instance, after the segment featuring the Cards’ Game 1 win, the footage shifts to Jason Motte enjoying some pre-Game 2 BBQ at Pappy’s in St. Louis with his family and, obviously, a room full of restaurant customers who happen to be Cardinals fans. Before Game 3 and Game 6, the footage shows the perspective of rolling into the home team’s city as the series shifted to a new ballpark.
This series had so many side stories and subtexts, and each was covered brilliantly in this film. The on-paper match-ups and how similar the Cardinals and Rangers were…the Allen Craig-Alexei Ogando battles…the offensive powerhouses and their pitchers duels in the first two games…The Albert Pujols Game…The Derek Holland Game…Game 5 shenanigans, including the Pujols-Craig hit and run fiascos and “Phonegate”…it’s all here. And it’s all great.
Then there’s Game 6, perhaps one of the greatest in World Series history. From the start, with the Rangers putting up early runs, to the errors and misplays on both sides, the game unfolds as one of the sloppiest anyone has ever seen. And then the Cardinals mount their comeback. David Freese’s game-tying triple in the 9th, Lance Berkman’s game-tying single in the 10th, and the game-winning homer by Freese in the 11th are all highlighted in their amazing baseball glory. “We will see you tomorrow night.” Smiles, chills, and tears are included free of charge.
And the Game 7 segment puts an exclamation point on a tale that wouldn’t be believed if it wasn’t captured on film. After the teams exchanged two run frames in the 1st inning, the Cards took charge of the game. But one of the most poignant moments of the film was when Motte came out of the bullpen in the 9th–in his interview, he said he took a couple of slow steps down the ramp to look around and take in the scene at Busch Stadium. It was yet another moment of profound reality, like David Freese becoming the hero for the team he grew up rooting for or Chris Carpenter re-assuming the role of Ace after Wainwright went down. The only thing missing from the film—curiously—is Joe Buck’s “What a team…what a ride” call as Craig caught the final out. The omission is probably only noticeable by those with the St. Louis bias, and it doesn’t ruin the film. But it is somewhat conspicuous.
The film also captures some of the parade through Downtown St. Louis as well as the announcement the next day of Tony La Russa’s retirement. This comprehensive look at the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals covers all the bases and does so beautifully. It should be enough to get even the most die-hard fan through the cold winter until the next Spring Training.
2011 World Series Film DVD Bonus Features
This Week in Baseball: Lance Berkman
Prime 9: Tony La Russa
Cardinals Clinch Wild Card (team watching PHI beat ATL from visitor’s clubhouse in HOU)
NLDS Game 5: Last Out and Celebration
NLCS Game 6: Last Out and Celebration
World Series Game 3: Albert Pujols 3 Home Runs
World Series Game 6: David Freese Triple to Tie
World Series Game 6: Lance Berkman Single to Tie
World Series Game 6: David Freese Walk-Off Home Run
World Series Game 6: Lance Berkman/David Freese Presser (funny exchange between the two as Freese recalls Jim Edmonds’ 2004 NLCS walk-off)
World Series Game 7: David Freese Double to Tie
World Series Game 7: Last Out and Celebration
WS Parade (brief ride-along with Freese)
Want More? (Nick Punto mic’ed for final play of World Series; MLB Productions Social Media links)
Disc Two contains the complete Game 5 of the NLDS between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, with a menu to start the game from any half-inning or the pre-game show on TBS. Overall, both discs comprise about four hours of video. Order your copy here or check your local retailer.
So my Tuesday was interesting.
The illustrious Justin Boyd of InsideSTL forwarded me an e-mail that asked if I would be available for a short radio interview on The Balance/Gary Snyder Show to talk about the World Series! After lengthy negotiations and making sure all my demands were met, I agreed to do the interview Wednesday at 4:30 CDT. The show covers a little bit of everything and is based in Indiana. It can be heard on AM 1400 WBAT and 860 WMRI if you’re local in Indy; otherwise the best way to listen anywhere else in the world is their free internet streaming site http://www.blogtalkradio.com/the-balance. Tune in to hear me wax poetic about the Cardinals and the 2011 World Series!
Thanks for reading…and for listening!
The following comes from an email exchange I had with Scott the Cubs Fan yesterday. We were discussing baseball, of course, and the NLCS. He said he’s really trying to root for the Cardinals, but it’s tough (obviously). Here was my reply to him; maybe more Cubs fans living in Cardinal country can take something from it as well:
I would expect this is a tough spot for a lot of Cubs fans. Unless you don’t share most NL fans’ general disdain for the AL, you have to choose between rooting for your oldest rival or your newest. There is the novelty of rooting for a Brewers-Rangers World Series in order to guarantee a first-time winner, I suppose. Detroit is one of those places that really needs some good news, so they’re probably the heartstrings’ favorite. Admittedly, the Cardinals are the closest thing to an “Evil Empire”-type team left in this postseason. For all these reasons, I wouldn’t at all blame you for rooting against them.
But then again, you’re completely surrounded by Cardinal Red. It’s on TV, radio, in the newspaper, on the street, and in your home. 99% of the people you love and care about the most are hoping more than anything the Cardinals will win the World Series, and if they don’t you’ll be on an island with one or two others as the only people smiling on the day they’re eliminated. And, as a lover of the game itself, you know that historically the St. Louis Cardinals winning the World Series is never a bad thing. Even you can’t turn away when Stan Musial appears on the field in that bright red blazer, flanked by Red Schoendienst and Lou Brock (well, maybe not him) and Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith.
I get it. Do what you feel you have to do. Go Cards.
I’m not sure what Scott the Cubs fan will choose to do. I know he’ll watch, because he loves baseball and completely geeks out on it during the playoffs regardless of who is playing. I do the same thing. No matter who you root for, that part is pretty universal. And I don’t expect him to walk around in the colors of either team. That would be a little much.
But I do know one thing: he really hates the Rally Squirrel.
It’s time once again for the United Cardinal Bloggers to gather in the virtual meeting room and tackle a roundtable discussion. Here’s the question I posed to my UCB brethren, inspired in part by my InsideSTL column on Monday:
The 2010 Postseason is in full swing, and for the third year out of the last four Cardinal fans are watching someone else play baseball. Or are they? What are you doing with your Cardinal-free October? Are you still interested in the Postseason? Are you rooting for or against specific teams, and why? Are you protesting the playoffs but still staying glued to the rumor mills for hints about the Cards for 2011 and beyond? Or have you given up on baseball altogether and shifted your attention to football and hockey?
–I will pull for whoever wins tonight to beat the Yankees, and root for the NL to win the World Series. -Mike, Stan Musial’s Stance
—A couple weeks ago, I guess I was being bitter and had very little interest in watching postseason baseball. However, I convinced myself that at least I needed to root for the Reds to lose (of course); not necessarily rooting for the Phillies to win. And, thanks the almighty powers of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, that happened; the Reds were swept right out of the postseason. So, I am happy. I wanted the Braves to win, only for Bobby Cox. Now that the Giants are in the NLCS, I guess I am being forced to root for the Phillies again. Although I haven’t really followed the games closely, I can’t help but pay attention – sports will always run my life.
As far as the Cardinals in October – I am doing my best to avoid listening to rumors regarding contracts and free agency, at least for right now. I would like for us to get to November before we really start in on all that. (Let’s face it; the rumors will be flying for this team this offseason.) After this year, I think we all need some breathing room/re-grouping since we have all were crowded around the ledge for some time.
Rooting for two things: Giants lose, Yankees lose. I guess I would be OK with the Phillies winning the World Series since they are in the NL.
P.S. yeah, I am in hockey season now – Go Blues! -Cadence, Cardinal Diamond Diaries
—I try to watch as much postseason baseball as I can. It’s definitely not as high on my priority list as it would be if the Cardinals were in it. I went in cheering heavily against the Yankees and Reds but have also developed more and more of a dislike for the Giants. As far as the Cardinals off season is concerned, well it’s time for Mozeliak to have a productive one. He’s got a lot on his plate that’s for sure. I love hot stove time so I’ll be tuned in for that and everything surrounding the winter meetings. In the meantime I’ll have college and NFL football to pass the time along with Blues hockey. We only have 4 months or so until pitchers and catchers report. -Dustin, Welcome to Baseball Heaven
–I do not watch post season baseball if the Cardinals are not in it. I follow all the rumor mills and read all the blogs and suck up all the winter activities I can find. There are too many other sports to watch now with NHL, NFL and NCAA football for me to look in on the other teams. It just kinda makes me throw up a bit in my mouth to see some of those teams playing! -Tom, Cardinals GM
–I want the Cardinals to remain the last team to win 3 consecutive NL pennants (1942-44). So I’m rooting for the Giants. -Mark, RetroSimba
–I’m a sports fan, so I’m really into college and pro football. I always participate in way too many fantasy leagues. I’m psyched that the Rams are showing improvement and the Chiefs are doing so well. As a Mizzou alum, I try to attend as many home Mizzou games as possible. I’m also a Gator. I love watching the big games of the week. I’m a huge hockey fan as well, so go Blues!
But all that doesn’t preclude me from staying up to date on all the Cardinal scoop. I want to know everything that’s going on. I enjoy watching the baseball postseason. I don’t watch all the games as much as I do when the Cards are involved. I despise the Yankees, so I always want to see them get beat. I watch the NL games more because the AL is not real baseball. The DH is an abomination. I like the Giants and the Phillies so as long as one of them win the Series, I’ll be a happy camper. Now sign Albert and all will be right with the world. -Jacqueline, Cardinal Diamond Diaries
–I still watch the playoffs. Every year. Of course I’m without a doubt upset that the Cardinals aren’t competing, but at the end of the day, I’m still a baseball fan. There’s no better baseball than playoff baseball. I have a deep appreciation for the game of baseball and I love seeing magical moments happen. That’s sure to happen during the post season.
I usually find a team to root for – one with a good story, or one that has assumed the “underdog” role. This year, I found myself rooting for the Braves for the Bobby Cox story. Now that they’re out, I root for anyone who isn’t the Yankees or Phillies (except when the Phillies played the Reds). If it comes down to Yankees vs. Phillies (like last year) I tend to side with the Phillies (lesser of two evils). It’s not an ideal situation like it would be if the Cardinals were playing, but it’s still fun to watch. For those of you who chose not to watch, you missed history in Game 1 of the Phillies/Reds series. I’d hate for you to miss more by simply not watching. -Cole, Redbird Report
–While there is always disappointment and frustration when your team doesn’t make it, I can never get enough of the baseball playoffs. Whether my team is playing or not, nothing tops October baseball. I guess I just love baseball enough that I can find a reason to be excited. It doesn’t take much when the World Series is on the line. The point is every year is making history. Another team gets etched in history and the moments that led to that pinnacle are all a part of the game’s history and I don’t want to miss out on that because I was sulking about my team’s failures. How can you not get chills watching Roy Halladay throw a no-hitter in the playoffs? And then be excited to talk about it all day until the rest of the games start at night. I know I am and I can always feel it every October. How can’t you at least get a little emotional watching Bobby Cox talk at a post-game press conference for the last time? There has to be something to grab you in the postseason. Your favorite team is what brings out the passion in the game. But the game alone is why you have that favorite team and that passion. It’s still baseball and it’s the best baseball of the year, so I’ll be watching year in and year out regardless of the competition. And when my team’s in it, I’ll be even more interested and I’ll be rooting like crazy to see them win it. When they’re not, the interest will still be there. -Ryne, Redbird Rants
–I think great minds think alike. Here is my Monday post for a website called “More Hardball”.
I am enjoying a great post-season despite by birds being on the sideline. I always keep my eyes peeled for Cardinal news throughout the year, that is a 365 day addiction for sure. As for Football and Hockey, I am not a Hockey fan at all and, while I watch football, it will not get my full attention until Baseball crowns it’s world champions.
I hope that helps, great questions, let’s just not start saying “Wait until next year”, there are a group of fans that phrase belongs to. -Bill, I-70 Baseball
–There are other sports? Really?
I’ll kinda keep up with how the Razorbacks are doing, but that’s the extent of my following of other sports. Don’t get me started on how football is over-hyped and overrated. As for the playoffs, I’ve not been able to see as much of them as I’d like. I’ll catch moments here and there, but not as much as if the Cards were still in it.
Basically, I just spend my time with my various baseball related projects–this roundtable, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, the blog, the UCB Radio Hour–and keep whiling away the time until the Hot Stove League really kicks off. -Daniel, C70 At The Bat
—I am watching and following the post-season. My only favorite team I am rooting for are the Rangers. I am hoping the Rangers are able to make it through the Yanks and meet the Phillies in the World Series! -Joe, The McBrayer-Baseball Blog
—I’m watching every possible game of the playoffs, and my interest has nothing to do with placing a pre-season wager on the playoffs. Nope, it has nothing to do with any such hypothetical wager that never, ever took place. I never even considered picking the Cardinals, Phillies, Giants, and Reds (WC) in the NL. (Maybe the AL picks would’ve been more accurate, but this conversation never took place.)
I’m done rooting against the Reds, because they were dropped like a wingman at midnight. I’m still hoping for a Rangers/Yankees ALCS, because that match-up intrigues me more than Yankees/Rays (they play each other enough as it is). If there is a Yankees/Phillies WS rematch, I’ll probably spend my time focusing on something compelling like starting a chain letter to John Mozeliak and Mr. Dewitt about coughing up the money for Cliff Lee. Oh, there will be plenty of college football, hockey, and professional football. Multitasking at its finest. -Dennis, Pitchers Hit Eighth
Wow! As usual, various viewpoints and great answers. If you are unaware of the UCB and the individual member blogs (most of which are linked above), make yourself aware pronto! All it will cost you is some fantastic fan journalism if you don’t…
As for me, I have to side with the watchers. While I’m excited about the St. Louis Blues and encouraged by the St. Louis Rams, I can’t seem to turn away from baseball while it’s being played. That’s especially true about playoff games. Maybe I don’t sit down and devote undivided attention to every inning, but I’m into it. Now that the NLCS and ALCS teams are set, I’m in full underdog mode. The Texas Rangers may technically be seeded higher, but almost any team playing the New York Yankees in the playoffs can’t be an overwhelming favorite. And the Philadelphia Phillies will be tough to beat, but I’d really like to see the San Francisco Giants get a chance to erase 50+ years of World Championship drought.
But even if it’s a Phillies-Yankees World Series rematch, I’ll be watching.
This week I’ll be giving my best guesses as to who will win their respective divisions this year, then I’ll roll out a postseason prediction. But since baseball is a game of emotion as much as it is of logic, I’ll explore both. First, that other league: the AL
The AL West is the red-headed stepchild of Major League Baseball. Four Teams? And one of them is in Texas? That’s almost as ridiculous as the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds being in the NL West for a quarter century. What’s worse is that only two of the four teams really appear to be trying: the Oakland A’s and the LA Angels. The Seattle Mariners aren’t going to be much better than last year’s debacle, and the Texas Rangers just can’t seem to find the pitching to complement a usually powerful offense. The A’s were not a bad team last year; the Angels were just really good. That may change this year, though.
I’d love to see Seattle back in the playoff hunt because of one guy: Ken Griffey, Jr. No one deserves a World Series appearance like this guy, and to have it happen as a member of the Mariners would make it a story that writes itself.
What I think will happen:
1. A’s – I think GM Billy Beane has once again made just the right moves to put this team back on top. Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi should boost the offense, and Orlando Cabrera will help stabilize the defense. They have a young rotation once again, but in a weak division it may not matter.
2. Angels – They’re going to miss Mark Texiera and Francisco Rodriguez, but now it looks like top-end starters John Lackey and Ervin Santana may have injury concerns as well. That could be enough to keep a third straight division title out of reach.
3. Mariners – May see dividends from the intangibles expected with the return of Ken Griffey, Jr.–large home crowds, mentoring for young players, etc.–but even .500 might be a stretch.
4. Rangers – Need a miracle. And a pitching staff.
The AL Central is probably going to be the most balanced division in baseball this season. No team is a clear favorite, and no team looks like a sure-fire dud either. The Detroit Tigers can’t possibly be as bad as they were last year. The Kansas City Royals may finally have a rebuild worth seeing to completion, and the Cleveland Indians might have the best pitching staff in the division. The Minnesota Twins are a sure bet to be in the mix like always, and if the Chicago White Sox can get big contributions from their youngsters they could surprise everyone in this tight race.
I’d love to see the White Sox pull this one out again. They might need to make a move to get a little younger and a little faster for it to happen, though. Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and AJ Pierzynski can swing the lumber, but they’re not exactly OBP machines. And, in a division where all the teams could be bunched up at or above .500, you need to play the whole game to be able to win.
What I think will happen:
1. Indians – Pitching wins championships, and Cleveland has a ton of it. Of course, everyone has to stay healthy, but that’s true of all teams. Big contributions from Anthony Reyes, Carl Pavano, and Kerry Wood are essential to the Indians’ success.
2. Tigers – A lot of people (including myself) picked Detroit to run away with this division last season, and they ended up dead last. It wasn’t the coaching…manager Jim Leyland is one of the best in the business. So that leaves one of two things: talent or attitude. Well, they had a lot of talented guys last season, a lot of whom are back for 2009, so…yeah. Get it together, boys.
3. White Sox – To go along with their aforementioned offensive issues, the South Siders have questions in their rotation. Mark Buerhle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd should be OK; beyond that things get dicey. But GM Kenny Williams has proven himself a pretty smart guy, and I can’t count out a team managed by Ozzie Guillen. The White Sox are my dark horse pick to come out on top.
4. Twins – Dark horse pick 1-A to win. Minnesota simply cannot be counted out of this race. The glaring problems they have is with the backs of two guys named Joe. Star catcher Joe Mauer has a back injury that will have him starting the season on the DL, and new third baseman Joe Crede has a history of back injuries. Those are big holes to fill if these two can’t stay healthy.
5. Royals – From the Starting To Come Around file, the Royals can sniff .500 if their rotation holds up, Joakim Soria closes like a stud again, and the offense is steady. In a division with such parity, they just have to concentrate on winning series and they’ll be pesky.
The AL East is a ridiculous juggernaut flush with just as much money as talent. I expect two playoff teams and the AL World Series representative to come out of this division. The New York Yankees reloaded with several top free agents but somehow trimmed payroll. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays will have legitimate shots at winning this division as well; the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles will not. It would not surprise me at all to have three teams within five games of the division lead most of the year. Which means the division championship is pretty much up for grabs.
I would love to see the Tampa Bay Rays win the AL East again. Last season made it easy for Rays fans to forget the previous 10 years of terrible, terrible baseball. The team earned their success; they didn’t buy it or luck into it. How can you not root for a team like that?
What I think will happen:
1. Yankees – Sabathia, Burnett, Wang…that competes with the top three of any rotation in baseball, but injury concerns are there. Riviera…the closer of the decade, but injury concerns are there. Texiera, Damon, Rodriguez, Jeter, Posada…a steady (if not borderline explosive) lineup, but injury concerns are there. On paper and sans injuries, the Yankees have one of the best teams in the league…
2. Red Sox – …but so do the Red Sox. And what they might have going for them over the Yankees is their youth. With that said, the Sox also need big, healthy years from veterans Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, and JD Drew if they’re going to overtake the Yankees and…
3. Rays – …this team, who added some veteran presence in Pat Burrell and Jason Isringhausen (once he’s rehabbed from offseason surgery) to go with their young core. They’ll pitch well, they’ll hit, they’ll run, and they’ll play defense. This team proved last year they can beat their big purse rivals to the north, and they’re likely do it again this year.
4. Orioles – Baltimore will do one thing well this season: play defense. Cesar Izturis and Brian Roberts are among the best middle infield combos in baseball. Unfortunately, they won’t have enough offense or pitching to compete with the big dogs in this division. But .500 isn’t out of the question.
5. Blue Jays – Toronto is going the wrong way. This year, the only thing they’ll be competing for is the #1 draft pick in 2010…which means they should probably trade Roy Halladay to try to get another 1st round pick and maybe a high-level prospect or two.
Agree? Disagree? Indifferent because you feel the National League is superior? Let’s hear it!