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?

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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.

Sigh.

Reds prospect Juan Duran suspended 80 games

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Juan Duran, a minor-league outfielder in the Reds’ farm system, has been suspended 80 games following positive tests for the performance-enhancing drugs Drostanolone, Stanozolol, and Nandrolone.

Duran is 6-foot-7 with big-time power, averaging 23 homers per 150 games since 2011, but he also strikes out a ton and struggles to control the strike zone. He spent last season at Double-A, missing a lot of time with injuries and hitting .256 with six homers and a .728 OPS in 59 games as a 23-year-old.

Duran is on the 40-man roster and is considered a quasi-prospect, but he’ll be ineligible to play until July and figures to head back to Double-A once reinstated.

The Blue Jays will talk long term deals with Jose Bautistia and Edwin Encarnacion

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Ever since Alex Anthopoulos resigned as Blue Jays’ GM and Mark Shapiro took over as team president, a distinct air of frugality has set in over Rogers Centre. The go-for-broke attitude that fueled Toronto’s fantastic second half last year was repudiated and long-term, sustainable building has seemed to be the order of the day.

But the Jays aren’t going to go crazy with that: ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Blue Jays plan to have long-term extension talks with the agents of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion during spring training. This, combined with the still-remaining possibility that they can avoid arbitration with MVP Josh Donaldson and hammer out a long-term deal could mean some serious spending by the Jays before Opening Day.

Or this could just be talk from the front office designed to buoy the spirits of fans. Locking up all three of them to long-term deals may be hella expensive and may not be possible. It’s also the case that, given their ages — Bautista is 35 and Encarnacion is 33 — it may not be advisable to lock the both up. As always, it depends on the terms and how generous Rogers Communications plans on being with the Jays’ budget.

But the chatter is now out there and expectations are poised to be set.

The Rays are REALLY ready to get to work on that new ballpark

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Last month St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays reached an agreement that would allow the Rays to seek a new ballpark outside of the St. Pete city limits, anywhere in the Bay Area. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports today that the Rays have submitted a required report to that end which “describes how they plan to evaluate potential ballpark sites across the Tampa Bay area” and serves as a rough outline of the sort of facility they’re looking to build.

They submitted it 39 days before deadline. Ya think they’re eager to get moving?

As for the specifics, it sounds like they’re shooting for a Braves or Cardinals style destination place with surrounding entertainment, retail and the like. The Braves are achieving that by basically building the park at a mall and plan to surround it with other mall/entertainment district-type development. The Cardinals built a downtown park, but have developed Ballpark Village after the fact. This is to be contrasted with downtown parks which either counted on existing city businesses or spurred separate development.

All of which makes sense given that there isn’t one dominant location in Tampa which all but demands development there. Tampa has a few different areas that might make sense and the place is generally more spread out than older cities. It also makes sense for the Rays’ owners who are likely well aware that being in the real estate business is just as good for them as being in the baseball business.

Will anyone EVER break that record that was broken nine years ago?

Hank Aaron
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In 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run. He would go on to hit six more, finishing his career with 762. That was nine years ago and, at present, the active home run leader is nearly 80 homers behind him and no sure bet to come close. The next closest guy is over 200 homers back and clearly entering a period of decline.

All of which raises the question: will anyone EVER pass the home run total of Hank Aaron, who is in second place on that list?

Maybe you think that’s not really a pertinent question. We tend not to ask whether people who do not, by any objective measure, hold a record will have their records surpassed. But you’d be wrong. Why, just today, on Hank Aaron’s 82nd birthday, at least two journalists speculated whether anyone would ever become the all-time second place home run king:

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That’s from Cliff Corcoran at Sports Illustrated. As always, it’s excellent work from Cliff. Right up there with his seminal “will anyone ever catch Lou Brock in stolen bases?” and “who can catch Trevor Hoffman in career saves?” pieces.

Then there’s Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who approves of the question posed and has his own response:

You can imagine how those tweets were received by those parts of Twitter who are all about PED apologia, math, objective standards, noting that Aaron admitted that he took a PED that would have him banned today too and stuff like that. As always, these things get ugly.

Not that they have to be. It’s almost as if, if one were to try, one could celebrate the amazing inner-circle Hall of Fame career of Hank Aaron, full as it is with nearly unsurpassed accomplishment, without applying a revisionist gloss to the one accomplishment that, according to all objective measures and the accounting of Major League Baseball, has been surpassed. That one could talk about Aaron without slagging on Bonds.