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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: It’s a Postseason Party in St. Louis…Again.

Well…Matt Carpenter was right. It wasn’t pretty. But the Redbirds got it done. The St. Louis Cardinals are the NL Central champs for the second year in a row. Can I just be the latest to say…

Thank, God.

I read a wonderful baseball quote once — probably by Rob Neyer…he has so many — that basically went something like this: “If you’re a baseball fan and your team is in the postseason, you can’t even really enjoy the playoffs…because if your team loses, it feels like they’ll never win again…and if you win, you’re only glad you didn’t lose.”

Amen.

That, for me, is the 2014 NL Central season in a nut shell for the Cardinals. So many experts picked them to win the Central. Pretty much every blogger, Twitter-er, and fan forum participant as well. And for about five months or more, it felt as if we would never get there.

Then, when we finally overtook the Brewers, we had about three days to enjoy our success before the doom and gloom threatened to pull this team into the latest oh-my-goodness-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening collapse.

And now that we’ve won it, I’m only glad we didn’t blow it. Well…that’s not entirely true. I can enjoy winning the division, but I still can’t make myself forget that it was the Cincinnati Reds that did the heavy lifting for us in the end. If not for those two Reds victories, the Cardinals would be getting ready for a gut-wrenching tiebreaker tonight. Ugh.

But…the Cardinals did pull it off, they did hold off the Pirates, and now they’re entering Cardinals Season.

It’s the playoffs that really bring out the best in St. Louis baseball and Cardinal Nation. It’s October that makes it truly feel like a successful baseball campaign for Redbird fans.

No, we don’t believe in consolation prizes…and no, we don’t believe a “winning record” is a good thing unless there’s a postseason berth behind it. Oh…and in case you’re wondering, no…just making the playoffs isn’t good enough for us.

I heard a few fans trying to placate grieving Cardinal fans with the “what’s it matter…you’re already in” refrain when it looked like the Pirates were going to snatch the Central from us.

Uh uh. We don’t play that in Cardinal country. The Wild Card just isn’t good enough. If that’s how we get in, like in 2011, that’s fine. But we don’t settle for “just getting in.” To put it simply…

If you like it, you better put a ring on it.

For the 2014 Cardinals, as it has been for years and many teams before them, it’s World Series or bust. Winning the NL Central Division Championship scratches one more win from our honey-do list, and that’s great…but this thing is far from over

Make it to the NLDS. Done. Win 11 more games…TBD.

Let’s get into the rest of it…

I bet the Pirates wish they had Gerrit Cole to throw against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday. When Pittsburgh lost against the Reds on Saturday and the Cardinals dropped a disappointing game in Arizona that night, I started thinking about Sunday a bit more…and it became clear the Bucs were going to make a crucial mistake in throwing Cole against Johnny Cueto for a slim chance of winning the NL Central.

Just to lay this out for a moment, let’s assume the Pirates somehow pull off a victory against the Reds and Cueto, a legit Cy Young candidate. And let’s pretend like the Arizona Diamondbacks — perhaps the worst team in baseball — were going to defeat even MORE legit Cy Young candidate, Adam Wainwright who held them to 4 hits (1 extra base hit) and nothing else the only time he faced them this season…

Congratulations. You now get to face the Cardinals in a one-game tiebreaker played at Busch Stadium where the St. Louis ball club is 51-30. And if you win, you get to play Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on Friday…without Gerrit Cole. If you lose, you STILL have to play the Wild Card game…without Gerrit Cole AND whoever you threw against St. Louis on Monday.

You’ve added an extra game to your schedule, burned your best pitcher plus another, and you’ve lessened your chances overall of advancing past the NLDS and/or the Wild Card game…all for the chance to play one game against the Cardinals, a team that beat you in the season series and swept you in your last match-up…on their home turf.

Sure, I get the whole “manager damages his message to the team if he tells them to all-but-concede the division” thing…

But consider for a moment if Clint Hurdle had addressed his team on Sunday morning and said this:

“Guys, you’ve fought hard all season long. And I believe we are the best team in the division. But I won’t lie to you…I want a World Series, and I believe we can get there.”

*pause for clubhouse applause and cheering*

“So today, I’m gonna’ sit Gerrit down and throw _____ — not because I believe we can’t win the division, but because I believe our best chance of getting to the World Series is by saving him for a tiebreaker against St. Louis tomorrow, the Wild Card game on Wednesday, or Game 1 of the NLDS against Kershaw.

“Throwing him today just doesn’t make sense when you think about our ultimate goal.”

*pause for dramatic effect while Hurdle gives them a cold stare*

“Boys…no, MEN. Make no mistake…we are not in this just to ‘make it to the postseason’ anymore. We are in it to win it…and by God, we’re gonna’ take the whole f***in’ thing!”

But alas…Hurdle threw Cole on Sunday, the Pirates lost and the Cardinals won — without Waino — and now the Bucs host Madison Bumgarner on Wednesday in a winner-take-all Wild Card game. Yes, the Pirates have an amazing 51-30 home record, and yes they managed to hit Bumgarner well earlier in the year…but this is October, and I would’ve felt MUCH more comfortable (if I were a *shudder* Pirates fan) betting my season on Gerrit Cole than I would Edinson Volquez.

Of course, there is one upside to throwing Cole on Sunday as opposed to Wednesday…if they advance to the NLDS against the Nationals, he’s now available for Game 1 and possibly Game 5 if needed. Now, they just have to get there.

The Cardinals have a tough task ahead of them in LA with the Dodgers and Kershaw. Clayton is hands down the best pitcher on the planet…and the Cardinals must beat him Friday. Adam Wainwright is more than capable of holding the Dodgers’ offense down (see his .156/.182/.156 opponent’s slash line against them this season), but Kershaw is a beast, and the Redbirds’ offense has been “meh” this season overall.

But nevertheless, the Cardinals’ best chance of advancing beyond the NLDS is to beat Kershaw Friday and then finish things off in St. Louis where they have a dramatic home field advantage. Otherwise, they risk facing Kershaw twice in a best-of-five series. And that ain’t good.

They must beat Clayton on Friday and then punish the back-end of the Dodgers’ rotation.

By the way, regarding the myth that the Cardinals are somehow “good” against Kershaw…

This season, the Redbirds have an overall slash line of .220/.278/.360 against him with 3 total RBIs: A two-run homer by Peter Bourjos…and a lone RBI by Allen Craig.

Good luck with that…

— GO CARDS!!!

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