St. Louis Cardinals slap hands after defeating the San Francisco Giants duringtheir MLB NLCS playoff baseball series in San Francisco

Pretty much everyone hates the Cardinals, right?


Will Leitch is probably the most notable Cardinals fan in the little corner of the Internet a lot of us call home. And something dawned on him over the weekend:

I have spent so much time watching the Cardinals, reveling in their victories and agonizing in their defeats, that I had forgotten that the rest of the world was watching them, too … And the rest of the world, to my astoundment, hates the Cardinals. The rest of the world was cheering for the young, likable, fiery Washington Nationals, with their superstar youngsters and their facial hair and their natty natitude. The Cardinals weren’t the heroes to them; they were the brutish villains, the Cobra Kai, the Empire, stomping on the dreams of the upstart rebellion.

“Hates” is probably too strong a word. I don’t think people truly hate them. If anything, they have become incrementally more likable now that Tony La Russa is gone and don’t have many personalities — apart from maybe Chris Carpenter — who tend to draw the ire of fans in any notable way.

But people are certainly tired of them. Tired of them in much the same way people are tied of the Yankees. If you’re not a fan of either of those teams you almost always want to see them lose. Not because there’s anything wrong with them in and of themselves, but simply because we’re tired of the stories about them told during the postseason. Tired of the late comebacks which, no matter how exciting they are in any given moment, have some dispiriting element to them for anyone who doesn’t cheer those teams on.

It’s probably because the Cardinals and the Yankees are the ultimate overdogs.  They have attained that status for very different reasons, of course. They have different financial structures and fan bases and press coverage and general attitude surrounding them. But they are both considered the gold standard of their respective leagues for whatever reason and they both can never, ever be counted out.

Folks don’t like that much. If their own team can’t be in it, they prefer that just about any other team move on before the Cardinals and the Yankees do.  They either want to root for underdogs or, if there are no underdogs around — remember, the Nationals won way more games than the Cards did — they at least want the new stories and faces on their TV screens in October.

All of which makes this postseason rather dreary.  We were a couple of random bounces, key hits and close calls away from the A’s, Orioles, Nationals and Reds playing in the ALCS and NLCS. That may have been ratings poison for Fox and TBS, but it would have been refreshing for people who were watching.  Now we have those two always-theres in the Yankees and the Cardinals.

And really, the other guys aren’t a ton better.  The Giants don’t have that same feeling as the Cardinals, but they did just win it all in 2010. Saving them, I reckon, is the fact that Brian Wilson can’t pitch this year, which goes a long way to combat the annoying familiarity.  The Tigers are no Yankees and are not even as ubiquitous and tired a story as the Rangers have been, but they do have the Cabrera-Verlander duo which have consumed an awful lot of media oxygen when it comes to MVP arguments and such in the past two years.

So, nope, we really don’t have any fresh faces or exciting new stories this postseason.  Those of us who aren’t Yankees and Cardinals fans are probably settling on rooting for the Tigers and Giants, but it’s not that satisfying.  I suppose the best we can root for is high-quality baseball over the next two weeks and change. Which, given how sloppy and ugly so much of this postseason has been, would be a refreshing storyline of its own.


ALDS, Game 2: Rangers vs. Blue Jays lineups

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Here are the Rangers and Blue Jays lineups for Game 2 of the ALDS in Toronto:

CF Delino DeShields
RF Shin-Soo Choo
DH Prince Fielder
1B Mitch Moreland
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
2B Rougned Odor
C Chris Gimenez
3B Hanser Alberto

SP Cole Hamels

Adrian Beltre is out of the starting lineup after leaving Game 1 with what appeared to be a significant back injury, leaving Hanser Alberto to fill in at third base. With a right-hander on the mound Mike Napoli goes to the bench and Mitch Moreland starts at first base, and manager Jeff Banister also switched up the batting order a bit without Beltre in the No. 3 spot. Robinson Chirinos homered in Game 1, but he takes a seat in Game 2 so that Chris Gimenez can catch Cole Hamels.

LF Ben Revere
3B Josh Donaldson
RF Jose Bautista
DH Edwin Encarnacion
SS Troy Tulowitzki
1B Chris Colabello
C Russell Martin
2B Ryan Goins
CF Kevin Pillar

SP Marcus Stroman

Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista are both in the starting lineup after leaving Game 1 with injuries, which is particularly good news in Donaldson’s case because he suffered a potentially serious head injury sliding into second base. Toronto’s only change from Game 1 is subbing Chris Colabello for Justin Smoak at first base with a left-hander on the mound. There’s right-handed power all over the place, so Hamels’ changeup may be the key to the entire game.

Royals will bring back Yordano Ventura to start Game 4

Yordano Ventura
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Thursday night’s rain delay cut Yordano Ventura‘s start short after just two innings, as the Royals opted to turn to reliever Chris Young instead of bringing the 24-year-old right-hander back out to the mound following the delay.

One benefit to that is what manager Ned Yost has decided to do now, which is use Ventura to start Game 4 on Monday. Had he thrown, say, 102 pitches instead of 42 pitches Ventura likely would have started Game 5, forcing the Royals to go four starters deep in their ALDS rotation.

Ventura struggled before the delay Monday, allowing three runs in two innings. However, he finished the regular season by going 7-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 68 innings over his final 11 starts, which was enough to convince Yost he was the right pitcher to start Game 1 rather than trade deadline pickup Johnny Cueto.

Playoff Reset: Four games in one day!

Cole Hamels

Oh baby.

There’s baseball from noon to midnight today, with a pair of Game 2s in the American League and a pair of Game 1s in the National League.

Tons of great starting pitchers–including the best in the world and a trio of big-name trade deadline acquisitions–and we’ll find out if a home team can actually win a game after starting the playoffs 0-4.

The Game: Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays
The Time: 12:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Rogers Centre, Toronto
The Channel: MLB Network
The Starters: Cole Hamels vs. Marcus Stroman
The Upshot: Stroman coming back from what was deemed a season-ending knee injury in spring training to start Game 2 of the ALDS is a helluva story and the Blue Jays need him to come up big after David Price failed to do his part in Game 1. Yovani Gallardo somehow wriggled out of trouble against Toronto’s scary lineup, but as a left-hander Hamels has an even tougher assignment versus the never-ending right-handed power. Assuming it’s all in the lineup, of course. There are big health question marks for both sides, as Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Bautista all exited Game 1 with injuries and their respective statuses could swing the balance of power in the series.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals
The Time: 3:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
The Channel: FOX Sports 1
The Starters: Scott Kazmir vs. Johnny Cueto
The Upshot: Two headline-grabbing trade deadline pickups with a lot to prove, as Kazmir and Cueto both struggled for their new teams. Cueto was bumped back to Game 2 after being acquired to front the Royals’ rotation and there was some speculation that Kazmir might not even have a spot in the ALDS rotation. Kansas City losing Game 1 last night and Houston having Dallas Keuchel waiting in the wings for Game 3 puts a ton of pressure on Cueto’s shoulders. Generally one of the toughest pitchers to homer against, he allowed 10 homers in 13 starts for the Royals and the Astros’ power-packed lineup will put him to the test all afternoon. Can the defending AL champs get off the mat quickly or will they head to Houston in need of a win to keep the season alive?

The Game: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Time: 6:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Busch Stadium, St. Louis
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jon Lester vs. John Lackey
The Upshot: Former Red Sox teammates Lester and Lackey square off in Game 1 of the first ever playoff series between two of the biggest rivals in baseball, with the Cubs fresh off their Wild Card game triumph over the Pirates and the Cardinals coming off an MLB-high 100 wins. Yadier Molina‘s ability to play through a thumb injury will be key for the Cardinals and it’ll also be interesting to see how much faith manager Mike Matheny has in Adam Wainwright to get late-inning outs as a reliever after returning from a torn Achilles’ tendon.

The Game: New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Time: 9:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jacob deGrom vs. Clayton Kershaw
The Upshot: Quite a way to finish an entire day of baseball, as the Mets go looking for their first playoff win since 2006 and Kershaw tries to cement his legacy as an all-time great by dominating in the playoffs like he does in the regular season. And don’t overlook deGrom, because last year’s Rookie of the Year winner has a 2.61 ERA and 349 strikeouts in 331 innings since debuting last May. Among all starters with at least 300 innings during the past two seasons Kershaw ranks first in ERA and deGrom ranks fourth, with Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke in the 2-3 slots. This is a speculator pitching matchup.