Jon Heyman ranked his favorites heading into this postseason. He picked the Phillies, a team I thought the Cardinals could challenge and rival in the NLCS. Well, you know how that worked out. Heyman even alluded to the Cardinals confusing season just before turning his thoughts back to the final eight: “There are some surprises in this year’s postseason (Reds, Rangers), as well as a couple just-as-surprising omissions (Angels, Cardinals).”
One surprise, the Reds, clipped the Redbirds wings easily at the end of the summer to make for a surprising disappointment. The Rangers finally broke through to beat out the Angels easily. These situations are yet another reminder that games and seasons, especially 162-game baseball seasons, are not played on paper.
The Cardinals had plenty to brag about on paper heading into the season and even after disaster struck. Albert Pujols was Albert Pujols. He was the best hitter in baseball once again and finished the season as a leading MVP candidate. Adam Wainwright was the best pitcher in baseball until a tough stretch that coincided with the Cards collapse. He still finished with a landmark 20 wins and was at the top of every major pitching category. Jaime Garcia was nearly his equal in putting up a sub-three ERA in his rookie campaign and showing tremendous poise and maturity all year. Chris Carpenter had a typical year that showed well in a year littered by pitching dominance. Matt Holliday actually earned his money by swinging the bat as expected, putting him with the best of the best in the majors.
And yet, this team never had it. They never found chemistry. Something was always off.
That empty feeling has given way to a dizzying list of questions that only leaves the organization with the same empty feeling.
Baseball can have that effect on you, just ask the Chicago Cubs. Year after year, new hope and reassurance that this is the year returns with the warm breeze of spring. And year after year, that hope is destroyed in the heat of the summer and then tortured in the chilly wind of October.
October is the greatest month of the game for eight teams right now. For the others, it is agonizing reminder that they failed.
The Cardinals failed despite great expectations. At one point, a trip to the NLCS and maybe even the World Series was realistic. But that is a distant memory now.
The 2010 baseball postseason will begin to write its chapter in October lore Wednesday. While the Cardinals won’t be a part of it except maybe as a footnote of failure and defeat in the narrative of the Cincinnati Reds, it’s still October baseball. And somewhere that baseball fan in you is going to watch and find some small joy in it despite the Redbirds failure.
Let’s take a look at this year’s matchups.
NLDS: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds
The Phillies are looking like the Big Red Machine of the ‘70s right now. This machine is powered by some high quality H2O. No, not water power, arm power. Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt have Philadelphia confident they’ll be parading down Broad Street again in 2010. The Reds were lost in the Cardinals shadow in the preseason but dominated down the stretch to take the division. Will they play the underdog role perfectly in this new season?
My Prediction: Phillies are too strong with that pitching staff and team chemistry. They march on to the NLCS.
NLDS: San Francisco Giants vs. Atlanta Braves
This one isn’t quite as clear-cut. Both teams barely got into the dance in a crazy wild card and NL West race, but they’re here now. San Fran will point to their pitching staff to get votes. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Barry Zito form a nice rotation. And that crazy guy in the bullpen will be fun to watch for some ninth inning drama. The Braves are hobbling into the playoffs after watching the Phillies catch fire to snatch the division title away with ease. Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson lost some zip at the end of the season, but October should be enough to spark their second wind. The lineup is hurting. Martin Prado is out. Chipper Jones has been out. It’s all on Jason Heyward and Omar Infante now.
My Prediction: It seems like the Braves are hurting too bad to take the series against the Giants arms. But I’m going with Atlanta simply because I think Bobby Cox has a little magic left in him in his final run.
ALDS: New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins
The Yankees are too powerful to get beat by this pesky Twins team. Justin Morneau is officially off limits. And it’s hard to see the Twins having enough firepower to take down the Bombers. With CC Sabathia heading the rotation and a deadly lineup, New York is too much for Joe Mauer and Minnesota.
My Prediction: I guess I already told you, but it should be fun to see October baseball outside in Minnesota, right?
ALDS: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Texas Rangers
The Rays won the AL East over the Yankees and no one seems to care. The real question now is: Will Tampa Bay care now that the games matter? Or will they have to give out free tickets to create a buzz again? I kid, but seriously it’s going to be funny to see the Trop sold out because it’s the playoffs. The Rangers are the unknown in the AL. Will this franchise get its first playoff series victory ever?
Prediction: Just to be different – Yes, the Texas Rangers will finally win a playoff series. The Rays will waste its last magical season with an early playoff exit and watch as the franchise falls back into the doldrums. Sad, but the owner already said they can’t afford to keep this team together. With such a great team, it’s too bad the Rays are destined to fall apart sooner rather than later. Texas starts the process for them with a first round upset.
NLCS: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves
The magic runs out for Atlanta, marking the end of an era. Bobby says goodbye. The Phillies dominate in five games and make it known they want the Yankees.
ALCS: New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers
The Yankees edge Texas, which is too high after its landmark victory over Tampa. It takes the Yanks six to get by because Cliff Lee breaks out some magic for the second year in row to win two games. In the end, New York overpowers the Rangers and Nolan Ryan will have to wait another year for a shot at the World Series again. He was 22 and not yet the legendary fireballer the last time he got the chance.
World Series: New York Yankees vs. Philadelphia Phillies
This is what we’ve all been waiting for. At least, I have. I predicted a rematch at the start of the season and I’m stick with it as they say. Last year I picked Philadelphia and it didn’t work out. This year? I’m riding the Phillies again. The pitching staff is the difference and Philadelphia begins to hear whispers (or loud cheers and yelling) of a dynasty. Roy Halladay wins Game Seven in Philadelphia (Yes, the National League did actually win that game this year. Yankees fans cry that home field advantage shouldn’t be based on the All-Star Game). Phillies fans laugh and have a celebration at Citizen’s Bank Park where fans can run on the field to celebrate – it’s becoming a tradition in Philadelphia, so why not? Chase Utley declares the Phillies World Champs again and Harry Kalas smiles from above, making the call with Whitey.
Tags: 2010 MLB Playoffs Adam Wainwright Albert Pujols ALCS ALDS Bobby Cox Brian Wilson CC Sabathia Chase Utley Chipper Jones Chris Carpenter Cliff Lee Cole Hamels H20 Jaime Garcia Joe Mauer Justin Morneau Marin Prado Matt Cain Matt Holliday Minnesota Twins NLCS NLDS Nolan Ryan Omar Infante Roy Halladay Roy Oswalt St Louis Cardinals Tim Lincecum World Series