Do you know where the Cardinals were exactly one month ago? Oh, just 6 1/2 games behind the shoo-in Braves in the Wild Card race. Yet in the space of one month, not only did they leapfrog the Braves to win the National League Wild Card, but they also earned a trip to the NLCS by knocking off the heavily-favored Phillies in the division series. Way to mess with the narrative, guys.
It’s often said that the playoffs are a crapshoot and anything can happen over the course of a five-game series. And that’s absolutely true. If the ball bounces your way in October, unexpected things can and usually do happen. Roy Halladay was brilliant in his own right on Friday night and if he got even a little bit of help from his offense, we may have been talking about Cliff Lee facing the Brewers in Game 1 of the NLCS on Sunday. However, Chris Carpenter was just a little bit better and fortunate enough to get the razor-thin margin of support he needed, including some fantastic plays by his defense.
This isn’t to slight the Cardinals at all. The Rays understandably got most of the national attention after topping the Red Sox for the American League Wild Card, but the Cardinals actually had the better record between the two teams in September. With an 18-8 record in in the final month of the season, the Cardinals entered the playoffs as arguably the hottest team in baseball. It’s very easy to dwell on the negative of the high-profile losing team, as we saw with the “collapses” of the Red Sox and Braves and are already witnessing with the losses of the heavily-favored Yankees and Phillies, but the Cardinals are no pushovers. Armed with the league’s best offense, they belong here.
There might be less eyes on the NLCS than there would have been if the Phillies were involved, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fantastic baseball between the Cardinals and Brewers. I don’t think I need to remind you that these teams don’t like each other very much. Those games had playoff-level intensity way back in early August, so I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us now that a trip to the World Series will be on the line.
The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.
Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”
Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”
The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.
There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.
Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.