XKCD

What World Series storylines will we get tired of soon?

48 Comments

Between this Wednesday and a week from Thursday there are going to be between four and seven cool baseball games which will result in one team being crowned world champion. They will win this championship by scoring more runs in more games than their opponent does. After each game we will be able to look back easily and see how and why the winner won and the loser lost, as all of the relevant data will be there for us to see in video, digital, numerical and narrative form.

But seeing what happens and then trying to make something of it is boring! The real fun part of the World Series is to create and/or identify “storylines” and assert that they cause and influence the game action. Sometimes these storylines have the benefit of being relevant, accurate and even prescient. Often they merely serve as blah-blah-blah fodder for baseball’s talking heads and writing hands to use to kill time before and between ballgames.*

So, what are some of the pre-facto, post-facto and beside-the-point-factor stories baseball’s bards will be recounting over the coming days? What are the apparently random and inconsequential events from earlier in the season or earlier in history which, after we see how history unfolds, will be claimed as evidence that history was going to unfold just so?  Here are some possibilities!

  • Hairs vs. Squares

The 1972 World Series famously pitted the mustachioed and long-haired Oakland A’s against the Reds, whose players had haircuts you could set your watch to. It was called the “Hairs vs. Squares” series by some and was seen as some sort of microcosm of the culture at large. Of course because it’s baseball and baseball tends to lag the culture, it was a microcosm which captured a cultural rift that was five or six years old at that point, but that’s neither here nor there.

These days there isn’t some huge cultural rift regarding hairstyles — anything goes, right? — but don’t be surprised if you hear a great deal of talk about how the Red Sox all have crazy beards and the Cardinals are upholders of baseball conservatism. When you hear this, try to forget that (a) beyond the Sox’ beards, there is nothing at all radical about the Red Sox and/or their style of play; and (b) that several members of the Cardinals have beards, even if they aren’t crazy.  Indeed, the whole Cardinals stereotype is based on “unwritten rules” nonsense, not fashion sense or personal style, so best to ignore this phony construct before you think too deeply about it.

  • The Best vs. The Best

This one is far less specious in that it does actually tell us something about baseball. The Cardinals and the Red Sox each have the best record in their respective leagues and thus represent some sort of throwback to the pre-divisional play days in which the two best teams would face each other in the World Series.

As a fan of pre-divisional baseball, I like the idea of the two best teams meeting one another. I will acknowledge, however, as you should too, that simply pitting the best teams against one another is no guarantee of a good World Series.  The last time this happened was 1999, and that was a clunker of a snooze-fest of a matchup for all but partisans of the winning Yankees. Meanwhile, lots of good World Series — including several involving the Cardinals — were humdingers despite featuring less-than-the-best. 2011 went seven games with a wild card winning Cards team. 2002 featured two wild card teams in the Angels and Giants going the distance in pretty dramatic fashion. Neither the Yankees nor the Diamondbacks were the best in their leagues in 2001 yet played one of the best World Series you’ll ever see.

The best vs. the best is fun. But it kinda doesn’t matter either.

  • A Matchup of Storied Franchises

Baseball doesn’t play up its founding franchises like the NHL does — “The Original 16” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Original Six” — but this year’s series is a sepia-tone lover’s wet dream. The Yankees may be baseball’s most storied franchise, but the Cardinals and Red Sox are probably in the top four. As I noted this morning, the Sox and Cards have met in the World Series several times, so you’ll be certain to get a heavy dose of 1946, 1967 and 2004 — as well as all manner of Ted Williams, Bob Gibson and Stan Musial stuff on the side — in the coming days.

All of that will certainly make for some nice sidebar material, but it obviously has no bearing on the 2013 World Series given that, with the exception of David Ortiz and Yadier Molina, none of these guys met in those previous matchups and certainly none of these guys are properly pictured in those sepia tones. Because they’re, like, in their 20s and 30s.

Still: I’d bet my first born that on media day tomorrow and throughout the series, you will hear and see ballplayers being asked what it feels like to be part of a matchup of historic franchises. Because MLB media relations people are sharp, you can bet that these ballplayers will all have semi-good, though certainly canned responses to these questions, all of which give respectful nods to the greats of Cardinals and Red Sox past. As you hear those answers, remember that the hard sliders, ungodly heat and fearsome power of their opponents in the upcoming games is taking up approximately 98.75% of their actual concentration and history means nothing to them at the moment.

  • Worst to First

I don’t think this one will get a ton of play, but be on the lookout for it: the Boston Red Sox, you may not realize, finished in last place in 2012 and now here they are in the big dance. Some may even note that the Cardinals, despite playing in the NLCS last year, had a down year themselves, winning only 88 games. Forget, if and when you hear this, that many of the same people trying to peddle this quasi-underdog thing just got done telling you that this World Series pits The Best vs. The Best.

Either way, it’s kinda hard to even buy into the Red Sox’ worst-to-first thing as anything truly meaningful. Yes 2012 was awful, and the 2011 collapse will be sung about for ages. But prior to 2012 the Sox won 90, 89, 95, 95 and 96 games in their previous five years and are still among the most successful teams in all of baseball over the past 10-15 years. Last year was a function of injuries, some bad leadership and less-than-ideal roster construction, it wasn’t some sort of pit they had found themselves in for anything but the briefest of moments, historically speaking. Yes, give credit to the Sox’ front office for fixing what ailed this club last year, but with 2013’s great year almost in the books, it’s looking less like a classic “worst to first” scenario than it is an “outlier year to first” kind of thing.

Those are the top storylines I can think of at the moment.  I’m sure as the games progress — and as the creative minds of producers and editors ramp up today and tomorrow — we’ll hear some more angles that, however interesting they may seem, are something less than illuminating in a purely baseball sense.

Which is fine, because there’s a lot of downtime between games and sometimes you need weird things like “Jerome Bettis is from Detroit” and “so-and-so and what’s-his-face used to play on the same high school team” or whatever it is we’ll get.  Just don’t mistake the fun for the meaningful. Because all that is meaningful will take place between the lines, not outside of them.

*Note: be sure to catch me on “SportsDash” on the NBC Sports Network at noon eastern weekdays! And don’t forget to read HBT for all of your baseball analysis needs during the World Series!

Video: Yadier Molina does pushups after being brushed back, gets hit

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 9.21.21 AM
5 Comments

The best part of this sequence is not that Molina successfully evaded an inside pitch or that, in doing so, he hit the dirt and did some pushups. It’s not even the part where, after that, het got back up and knocked a single to left field.

No, the best part is the applause from the crowd. Very respectful fan base in St. Louis. They’d even applaud an opposing player who showed such a great work ethic. Or so I’m told.

 

Justin Verlander and Kate Upton are engaged

Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, left, and model Kate Upton pose for a photograph during second half NBA All-Star Game basketball action in Toronto on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Associated Press
6 Comments

Justin Verlander and Kate Upton have been a couple for a long time. And dudes like me have been writing about them for a long time because, well, Justin Verlander and Kate Upton.

They’ve fallen a bit off the radar in recent years thanks to Verlander taking a step back from Cy Young contender status and Upton’s profile likewise receding a bit, but if anything that probably helped things out given how hard it probably is to live a life with paparazzi hovering every time you want to out and get a burger or something.

In any event, those two crazy kids have made it work. Made it work so well that Verlander gave Upton a big fat rock that she showed off at last night’s Met Ball, which is a fundraising gala for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Check it out:

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 8.20.56 AM

When you’re on a $180 million contract you can afford stuff like that, I guess.

Anyway, it looks like Upton enjoyed the fancy, star-studded gala in New York. I’m sure Verlander had a good time on the Tigers’ off-day in Cleveland. There’s a lot to do in Cleveland if you know where to look.

And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon yells toward Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Kyle Lobstein after Cubs' Ben Zobrist was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning of a baseball game, Monday, May 2, 2016, in Pittsburgh. The Cubs won 7-2. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Associated Press
8 Comments

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 7, Pirates 2: Plunky Brewster. Archie Plunker — no, Archie Plunker’s Place.  Plunkingham Palace. Fran Plunkington. I dunno, but there was plunking here, starting with Jason Hammel hitting Starling Marte to lead off the sixth followed by Kyle Lobstein hitting Ben Zobrist in the seventh. Hard to deny that Hammel hitting Marte wasn’t retaliation for Tony Watson hitting Jake Arrieta in the Wild Card Game last year, though I’m sure everyone denied it. Boys will be boys. Hammel allowed two runs pitching into the sixth and his ERA almost doubled, which tells you how good he’s been in the early going.

Rangers 2, Blue Jays 1: Nomar Mazara won April’s Rookie of the month award yesterday afternoon and several hours later hit a tiebreaking home run in the top of the eighth. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, he threw out a dude at home plate. Not a bad day for the kid. This was also a playoff rematch that had the potential for a plunking. Some think the Rangers still want to hit Jose Bautista for the infamous bat flip last October. Maybe it’ll come later in the series when the game is not as close, but for now the Rangers are probably pretty happy with him going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.

Giants 9, Reds 6: Johnny Cueto returned to Cincinnati to pitch in front of his old home crowd. He didn’t pitch well, giving up six runs in five innings, but you have a bit of a margin for error against this Reds teams. The Giants bats supplied the margin, rattling out 14 hits, including Brandon Crawford‘s three-run homer in the seventh to put the Reds Giants ahead. He added a fourth RBI in the ninth for some insurance.

Mets 4, Braves 1: Mike Foltynewicz got called up yesterday to make his first big league start of the year. He was greeted by a four-run first inning. Gwinnett County is in the same time zone as New York so you can’t blame jet lag, but maybe he got some bad shortbread cookies on the flight or something. Or maybe, based on the fact that he sucked in 15 starts last year, he’s simply not that great. Maybe if these are the 1988 Braves all over again, as I’ve hoped and suspected, he’s our Kevin Coffman: the guy purported to have great stuff and a great future who just got eaten alive by big league pitching before disappearing into witness protection. Meanwhile, Bartolo Colon — who is way closer in age to Kevin Coffman than Mike Foltynewicz — tossed eight shutout innings.

Brewers 8, Angels 5: Jimmy Nelson had two hits including a go-ahead RBI single. He also allowed only two runs over seven innings and got the win. The Brewers got their runs in bunches, with four in the fifth and four in the sixth.

Twins 6, Astros 2: The Twins, who started the season with a notable losing streak and are considered to be among the top underachievers of the young season, now have the same record as the Astros who were favored by many to win the AL West and who most have said “it’s OK, they’ll come around.” And it’s not because the Twins have turned into world-beaters in the past couple of weeks. I’m not saying it’s time to panic in Houston or anything, but eww. Jose Berrios got his first career win, giving up two runs on three hits with eight strikeouts in five and a third. Much better than his debut.

Nationals 2, Royals 0: Four in a row for the Nats as Gio Gonzalez and the bullpen combine on a five-hit shutout. The Royals have lost six of seven. Three of those losses have been shutouts.

Cardinals 10, Phillies 3: Adam Wainwright provided the game’s biggest highlight with a monster homer. The Cards hit five homers in all. When Wainwright was asked about his homer later he used the term “ducks on the pond” to refer to men on base when he came to bat. Which makes me think that Wainwright is 86 years-old. Seriously, I’m pretty sure he started Game 3 of the 1964 World Series against the Yankees. He was really salty when his manager, Johnny Keane, left St. Louis to take over for Yogi Berra in New York the following year. Everything turned out OK, though.

Mariners 4, Athletics 3Nathan Karns gave up three runs while pitching into the seventh. The M’s won for the fifth straight time in the Coliseum. They may be the only ones who like it there. Not that I can or should slam the place. I’m taking my kids on vacation to California next month and I’m taking them to a game there. I could just as easily take them to a Giants game at AT&T but I sort of want them to see what it was like to go to a ballgame in some weird multi-use place with a better proletariat-to- bourgeoisie ratio like I did in the 70s and 80s.

Padres 2, Rockies 1: Matt Kemp hit a two-run double in the first inning and it held up thanks to James Shields allowing one run over six. Shields has gotten seven runs in support in his six starts this season.

Video: Adam Wainwright crushes a three-run homer into the second deck

St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright connects for a three-run triple against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
1 Comment

Adam Wainwright has been bringing the lumber lately. The Cardinals’ pitcher delivered a three-run triple in his previous start, last Wednesday, against the Diamondbacks.

During Monday’s start against the Phillies, he doubled to lead off the third inning. Then, in the top of the fourth, he absolutely demolished a Jeremy Hellickson offering for a three-run home run into the second deck at Busch Stadium to tie the game at three apiece.

It’s the seventh home run of Wainwright’s career and brings his season total up to six RBI, matching a career high.