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.


Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.