The first pitch in the World Series will not be thrown until Wednesday night, weather permitting. I hear there is a Freese warning posted for Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas, beginning about that time and continuing for the next ten days, but that’s a story for another time. This gives us three days where we can speculate, tweet, trash talk and write about anything and everything. Some of it might even be relevant to the games about to be played. A good portion of it isn’t (but that’s half the fun, right?).
Apparently the Texas Rangers are heavy favorites to win the World Series. In fact, I read somewhere that it is more likely that the Rangers will sweep the Cardinals (a historically teeny tiny chance) than the Cardinals winning in seven games. Well then, why even play the games ? Because nothing ever goes according to plan.
The Franklin Effect
Excuse me, we will need to take a moment here and let the Cardinals fans recover. Just the mention of the name Franklin has been known to induce dizziness, anxiety, trembling, nausea and occasionally fainting. Let’s wait just a moment for everybody to catch their breath.
No, not Ryan Franklin, but Uncle Benny. It was Benjamin Franklin that once said, “Too often Sabermetrics are used as a drunken baseball fan uses a lamp-post, for support rather than illumination.” OK, it wasn’t Ben Franklin after all, it was Andrew Lang. But his now famous quote applies perfectly to the World Series. We are down to the point in the season where you are either a Cardinals fan or hate the Cardinals. You love the Rangers or hate the Rangers. You love the National League or prefer the Junior Circuit. Or maybe, you just are wondering why Fox hasn’t started Bones seventh season. That’s sufficient, no explanation is necessary.
If you ask me if the Cardinals will win the World Series, I will reply clearly and without hesitation, “
You bet your sweet Yes, they will.” If you ask me why, it’s because that’s the way I want it to be. And I’m OK with that. I don’t need any fancy statistics to hide my blind homerism. The World Series is a seven game celebration of that homer attitude. More important, if you try to use those same statistics to cover up your homerness, I will go all Zack Greinke and call you a phony.
No, this is not a criticism of statistics, old school or new. They each have their place, and we will never all agree about their usage. Most of them have either the games or events in the divisor, and as a mathematician, I can assure you that leads to some unstable algorithms over small sample sizes.
Instead of rationalizing the irrational, just sit back and enjoy the beauty of the game. It needs no enhancements other than a jersey, pennant, hot dog and beverage of your choice.
Nothing Left in the Tank
Some writers have suggested that the Cardinals pitchers have nothing left in the tank, after defeating the Brewers in the NLCS. I had no idea that pitchers had dipsticks, I wonder where they keep them while they play. Hmmm.
As far as the Cardinals pitchers and their fuel reserves, you might want to ask Pittsburgh (twice), Milwaukee (twice), Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Houston. Those are the the teams that the Cardinals defeated en route to the National League Wild Card. Since August 25, the only team to win a series against the Cardinals were the Cincinnati Reds. I will pause for the obligatory ironic facial expression. Then you might want to ask the Phillies and Brewers if the Cardinals pitchers, especially those the bullpen, were showing any signs of breaking down in the playoffs. The additional two days off will take care of any bullpen fatigue, and it’s not like the Cardinals starters were overused in the NLCS.
Cue Jamie and Adam from Mythbusters: Busted.
Chance Favors the Prepared Mind
It was Louis Pasteur that once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” That also happens to be the personal motto of Tony La Russa. His pitching changes, double switches, late inning defensive substitutions, obsession over matchups and about a thousand other things drive us nuts, and we’re on his side. I can’t imagine what fans of the other team are thinking about the Cardinals skipper.
In a short series, the outcome may be determined by a single pitch, the bounce of a baseball, or an umpire’s call. While you can’t prevent thes chance events from happening, you can have well thought out contingencies in case they do.
For example, who thought for 2 milliseconds that Edwin Jackson would only pitch two innings in Game Six of the NCLS. With the lead. No you didn’t. Neither did I. But there was one person that did, and it was the Cardinals manager. He already knew who he would go to in the bullpen, and who would follow him in sequence. While he won’t admit it publicly, he probably had a similar decision tree already written down for Game Seven (if needed). This was no random occurrence, La Russa has been managing like this since early August. Of 1996. Not so for the Brewers manager, Ron Roenicke, and his bullpen sequence in Game Six may have been the difference.
Bad things are going to happen to the Cardinals over the next four, five, six or seven games. When they do, Tony La Russa will be prepared and have a plan. I can’t imagine it working as well as it did in the NLCS, but then again, I didn’t really expect them to be in the NLCS. Hope, yes. Expect, not a chance.
League Champs not Chumps
Finally, it is important to take a step back and remember that every team that plays in the World Series is a good one. Maybe not the best over the full 162 + 5 + 7 game season, but very good nonetheless. Some respect for that should be shown on both sides of the diamond.
The Texas Rangers are a scary good baseball team. They cut their way through the Rays and all of their late season momentum. They defeated a team featuring one of the best pitchers in the game. And it’s a return engagement in the Fall Classic. That alone makes the Texas Rangers a team to be admired and respected.
The Cardinals deserve to be there too. Their lineup is just as nasty (hey, David Freese was a lumberjack hitting in the sixth spot, and Matt Holliday is waking up from his summer hibernation). The designated hitter ? No problem. Heck, you mean for three games the Cardinals can have Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Jon Jay *AND* Allen Craig in the lineup ? Raise your hand if that makes you smile from ear to ear. Yeah, me too.
The Cardinals are far more equipped to play in an American League park with the DH rules than ever before. In fact, the lack of a DH might hurt the Rangers more than playing with the DH will help them. Not much, and probably less than the overall difference in home field advantage. But it is a factor, and those honking for the Rangers seem to overlook it. Conveniently.
What’s Left ?
For all of this huffing and puffing, there is one thing about the Rangers that scares the living goobers out of me. It’s those <expletive deleted> starters. Every darn one of them has a winning record, and three of them throw from the port side. The Cardinals have two big weaknesses: pitchers they have never faced and guys that throw with their left arm. Strike one, Steeeerike two.
Then again, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee aren’t exactly chopped liver and the Cardinals did manage to get through that series.
It is time for baseball fans to drop all pretenses. Quit talking about probabilities, statistics, trends, xTHIS and babTHAT. Let’s come together in our respective blind homerness, for either side, and enjoy the finale of this great baseball season. That’s why we are baseball fans, and it just doesn’t get any better than this.