Thanks to an improbable come-from-behind victory in Game 2 of the NLDS, the Cardinals now arguably have the upper-hand in this best-of-five series against the team that helped get the Redbirds into the playoffs to begin with. It’s an ironic twist of fate that everyone knew was possible when the Phillies went toe to toe with the Atlanta Braves during the last three games of the regular season, who the Cardinals were desperately trying to catch in the National League Wild Card race.
The Phillies had a couple of things to consider that series: 1) Do we want to rest our star players for the playoff run? 2) Do we want to knock the struggling Braves out of the playoffs and face the red hot Cardinals in the 1st round? We could just keep the Braves in and play the Arizona Diamondbacks. 3) Do we need to step it up and right the ship before the playoffs begin (Phillies had lost 8 of 9 games since clinching the NL East title)?
Fortunately for the Cardinals, the Phillies chose No, Yes, and Yes… and the Cardinals squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the season. Ironically, the Cardinals now have a chance to come back to Busch Stadium with a chance to knock Philadelphia out. But the ironies don’t end there.
Rematch with Milwaukee
Raise your hand if you’d like to see the Cardinals get another shot at their division rivals to the north? The Brewers played a role helping the Cardinals back into the playoffs, too… going 1-5 against St. Louis down the stretch run when they had all but locked up the division title. When the Brew Crew last played St. Louis September 7th, the Cardinals were still 7 ½ games out of a playoff spot with 19 games to go. Resident pest, Nyjer Morgan, lit a fire under the Cardinals, apparently yelling and taunting them so much that ace Chris Carpenter finally decided to yell back after striking him out. Morgan then threw chewing tobacco in Carp’s direction, leading to a benches-clearing situation. After the brief encounter, Morgan called Albert Pujols “Alberta” and Cardinals’ Manager Tony La Russa said Morgan needed to “Get a clue.” Much of the trash talk from Morgan, one would think, came with the assumption that it would be the last time the Brewers played the Cardinals this season. But now, who knows.
In early August, you might recall LaRussa going off at the Brewers, accusing them of pitching dangerously to Albert Pujols after he was hit in the hand with a pitch high and tight. Later in the game, Ryan Braun was thrown at twice by Jason Motte, who drilled the Brewers slugger square in the back with his second pitch.
Overall, the Brewers and Cardinals split a season series of 18 games with 9 wins apiece? Who wouldn’t want to see this epic battle between two division rivals continue for another 7 games to settle the score once and for all?
World Series Possibilities
There would also be an number of storylines worth following no matter who the Cardinals face in the World Series, should the team get that far. The most ironic matchup would be with the Texas Rangers, who had a chance to add a huge bat to their lineup and give the Cardinals a knockout punch once and for all. I’m talking, of course, about the Lance Berkman trade that wasn’t. Berkman was the talk of the Major League Baseball trade rumors in late August. Texas was looking to add an impact bat, and the Cardinals were seemingly sellers who were out of the race and would be willing to deal a soon-to-be free agent. The Cardinals put Berkman on waivers at the 11th hour, but Texas wouldn’t up the ante enough and the deal never happened. The trade would’ve almost certainly kept the Cardinals out of the playoffs, and obviously would’ve kept Texas pitchers from facing Berkman in the World Series.
Adding to the ironies, the New York Yankees, who as you might recall can buy pretty much any baseball free-agent they want, elected not to resign Berkman in the offseason after Lance had a disappointing stretch run with the club. Meeting New York in the World Series would give Berkman a chance for some payback, and to prove himself, against his former team.
Should the Tampa Bay Rays square off with the Cardinals, it would be a matchup of the two miracle teams from the regular season. These teams have already become the teams with the biggest (Rays) and second biggest (Cardinals) September comebacks in baseball history, so why not become the first 2 wildcard teams ever to meet in the Fall Classic?
And the Detroit Tigers, of course, would provide a rematch of the 2006 World Series… a year in which, like this season, nearly everyone gave up on the Cardinals’ chances.
Much has been written over the past couple months about how the Cardinals’ have essentially “wasted” the Prime Years of the best player in baseball. “How,” they asked, “could the Cardinals only make the playoffs once in 5 years and not win a playoff game with Albert Pujols anchoring their lineup?”
The Cardinals, who are locked in a 1-1 series tie with the Phillies, obviously have a long way to go in the playoffs before they reach the World Series, but image how the tune would change if they pulled off the unthinkable and made it back to the Fall Classic. What was just months ago considered a “wasted opportunity” suddenly sounds like this:
“The Cardinals are back in the World Series for the 3rd time in 8 seasons.”
“Pujols and the Cardinals have won their second World Championship in 6 seasons.”
Funny how one miraculous 5-week playoff run could change everyone’s perspective on the past half-decade.
Like the “Pujols’ Prime” discussion, the Cardinals inability to win games in bunches has also been highlighted time and time again. The team put together just one 5-game winning streak all season, and swept only 4 series all season long (not including two 2-game sweeps). But with the way this team is playing right now, I don’t know, it just feels like a 6-game winning streak is coming. Maybe they were just saving it for the playoffs all along? Maybe not. Time will tell.
Colby Rasmus, Ryan Franklin, Trevor Miller. These names are among those who would be eligible for championship rings. Yes, really.
Injuries and Champions
Injuries to the Cardinals have been a story since virtually Day 1. From Adam Wainwright to David Freese to Matt Holliday to Albert Pujols to Matt Holliday again and about a dozen other key players in between, this Cardinals team had found a way to will itself into the playoffs. It reminds me of another team that did they exact same thing earlier this year, the Green Bay Packers, who won the Super Bowl despite having 19 players on injured reserve (more than a third of the opening day roster).
I’m pretty sure you all have the idea by now. The Cardinals’ playoff run and potential road to the World Series features more irony than the work of William Shakespeare.
As we head into Games 3 and 4 at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals will be looking for their first home playoff win since clinching the team’s last World Series Championship in October of 2006. Jaime Garcia will take on Philadelphia’s former #1 and now #3 ace, Cole Hamel’s, who was roughed up in his final appearance of the season vs the Atlanta Braves. Game 4, Edwin Jackson will take the hill vs I’m assuming Roy Halladay if the Cardinals lead 2-1 and Roy Oswalt if the Phillies lead 2-1.
It should be another heart-stopping, nerve-wracking week of baseball for Cardinals fans as St. Louis continues its series with the National League’s best team. Of course, if the Cardinals go out and breeze by the Phillies, that would just be another thing we could add to our list of ironies.