You should read "Cardboard Gods"

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Cardboard Gods cover.jpgI’m only about two months late in getting a review out for this book, but (a) there are so many baseball books that come out at the beginning of the season that it may have gotten lost in the shuffle; and (b) better late than never.  Especially in this case, because it’s a book you don’t want to miss.

The book is Cardboard Gods: an All-American Tale Told through Baseball Cards. The author is Josh Wilker, who operates the Cardboard Gods blog that I’ve been reading for several years (and you should be too).

Like the blog, Cardboard Gods is essentially a memoir. Unlike your usual memoir, however, Wilker does not allow his personal life to stand alone, thereby creating that awkward moment that accompanies almost all non-celebrity memoirs in which you wonder why you’re reading about the author in the first place. No, this has a hook: baseball cards. 1970s baseball cards to be precise, the titular Cardboard Gods with which the young Josh Wilker was obsessed as a child and which now help him organize and make sense of his memories and experiences.

As a hook — or a gimmick if you want to be crass about it — it’s a highly effective one, especially for any reader who ever sorted commons or has even a passing familiarity with 1970s baseball.  Which, if you’re reading this blog, you probably do.

For example, I may not be able to personally relate with Wilker’s unconventional upbringing (he was raised for a time in a three-parent quasi-hippie commune of a house), but I know the story about Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, and Wilker’s use of both Kekich’s card and their story provides a nice frame of reference to the times and helps me understand just how a baseball-obsessed kid might choose to process the situation.

The same goes for death (Lyman Bostock’s card and story provide a poignant touchstone), pop culture (a past his sell-date Mark Fydrich defines the ephemeral) and the brotherhood bond (The Reuschel’s infamous 1977 “Baseball Brothers” card).  Sometimes the connections are obvious — Jim Rice launches Wilker into a contemplation of celebrity — but the more obscure cards frame the more interesting and insightful chapters. Jose Morales as the gateway to a lesson on what it means to feel useless? It works, baby.

But let’s be clear about something: the baseball card hook is not the alpha and omega of Cardboard Gods‘ value.  They’re a way in, to be sure, but that’s really all they are.  Once you get in to each chapter, you’re met with keen insight into what it means to be young, to be confused, to have dreams, to have passions, to have fears, to face failure and to persevere.  And not to persevere in some phony rah-rah fashion like you so often see in these sorts of books. No one beats cancer in this book, no one loses 100 pounds and no one runs a marathon in this thing.  It’s just about living and understanding life like we all do, although not always in as reflective a way as Wilker describes it here.

I don’t write about a lot of books here and I recommend even fewer. But I recommend this one because it gets the balance right. There’s baseball here, no doubt, but the baseball isn’t everything. It’s merely something that adds flavor and understanding to life, much in the way our own experiences and memories add flavor to baseball.

If you have the means, seek out Cardboard Gods immediately, if not sooner.  You’ll be glad you did.

Playoff Reset: The National League takes center stage

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Zack Greinke warms up before Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series against the New York Mets, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
AP Photo/Gregory Bull
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After a wild Friday in which all eight teams were in action, the National League will take center stage on Saturday with a pair of Game 2 division series matchups. The ALDS will resume on Sunday.

The Game: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
The Place: Busch Stadium, St. Louis
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Kyle Hendricks vs. Jaime Garcia
The Upshot: After dropping Game 1, the Cubs will turn to Hendricks to even up the series headed back to Chicago. Hendricks got the nod over Jason Hammel due to his strong finish to the season. His 3.95 ERA isn’t going to blow you away, but he averaged 8.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 32 starts and had back-to-back scoreless outings to finish the season. Garcia has been great at home in his career and posted a career-low 2.43 ERA in 20 starts this season, but he was a bit more hittable down the stretch. It will be interesting to see what tweaks Joe Maddon makes to his lineup against the lefty. Jake Arrieta looms for Game 3, so this is a huge one.

The Game: New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Time: 9 p.m. ET
The Place: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Noah Syndergaard vs. Zack Greinke
The Upshot: It’s going to be difficult to top the pitching matchup from Game 1, but if anyone is capable of coming close, it’s these two guys. Syndergaard will try to bring the Mets back to Citi Field up 2-0 in the series. After posting a 3.24 ERA and 166/31 K/BB ratio in 150 innings as a rookie, he’s a serious threat to do exactly that. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they have NL Cy Young contender Zack Greinke on the hill. The 31-year-old led the majors with a 1.66 ERA during the regular season and is capable of rendering Syndergaard’s effort moot, much like Jacob deGrom did to Clayton Kershaw on Friday. This is another really fun matchup. One thing to note for the Mets is that rookie Michael Conforto will likely be in left field for Game 2 after sitting against the left-hander in Game 1.

Jacob deGrom outduels Clayton Kershaw, Mets take 1-0 NLDS lead

Jacob de Grom
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Jacob deGrom put together one of the best post-season starts in Mets history, outdueling three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw to pitch his team into a 1-0 NLDS lead. The right-hander fanned 13 over seven shutout innings, holding the Dodgers to five hits and a walk as the Mets won 3-1.

deGrom’s game score of 79 is the fifth-best by a Mets starter in the playoffs, behind Jon Matlack, Mike Hampton, Bobby Jones, and Tom Seaver, according to Baseball Reference. As Katie Sharp notes on Twitter, deGrom is one of three pitchers to hold the opposition scoreless on 13 or more strikeouts and one or fewer walks. The other two are Tim Lincecum and Mike Scott.

In the eighth inning, reliever Tyler Clippard allowed a one-out double to Howie Kendrick followed by an RBI single to Adrian Gonzalez as the Dodgers finally got on the board. Closer Jeurys Familia entered and recorded the final out of the eighth inning by inducing a weak line out from Justin Turner. In the ninth, Familia worked a 1-2-3 frame to wrap up the game.

Kershaw remains winless in the post-season since Game 1 of the 2013 NLDS, a span of seven starts. He gave up a solo home run to Daniel Murphy in the fourth inning, then walked the bases loaded in the seventh inning before departing with two outs. Reliever Pedro Baez entered and allowed two of his inherited runners to score when David Wright lined a single to center field. On the evening, Kershaw was on the hook for three runs on four hits and four walks with 11 strikeouts. Though he lost his command a bit towards the end of his start, the lefty pitched quite well and will be on the receiving end of some unnecessary criticism as a result of taking another post-season loss.

deGrom and Kershaw both struck out 11 batters, the first time that has happened in a major league post-season game.

Michael Cuddyer didn’t look too good out in left field for the Mets.

Game 2 of the NLDS will continue on Saturday at 9:00 PM EDT. Noah Syndergaard will start for the Mets opposite Zack Greinke of the Dodgers.

Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom create MLB first with 11 strikeouts each in the playoffs

Jacob deGrom
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

For the first time in major league history, both pitchers in a playoff game have struck out at least 11 batters, per’s Paul Casella. Mets starter Jacob deGrom has pitched just a hair better than Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw overall. deGrom has blanked the Dodgers over six frames on five hits and a walk. Kershaw made one mistake, resulting in a solo home run to Daniel Murphy in the fourth inning. He’s allowed four hits and four walks total in 6 2/3 innings.

The last time opposing starters each struck out 10 in a post-season game was back in 1944 in Game 5 of the World Series when Mort Cooper of the St. Louis Cardinals struck out 12 and Denny Galehouse of the St. Louis Browns struck out 10.