Sick of the Giants and the Cardinals in the NLCS? Tough. They deserve to be there and we’d better get used to it.

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As a supporter of the underdog, I gotta tell ya: it’s really refreshing to see plucky, underexposed upstarts like the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants finally catch a break and make it to an National League Championship Series. We’re now guaranteed to see either the Giants or the Cards in the World Series, and that’s just the kind of feel-good story you like to see for once.

OK, enough of that. I’ll try to get over my exhaustion at having these two teams advance, once again. I mean, sure, a fifth straight year of one of these two in the World Series is less than novel, but it’s not like they cheated, lied or stole to get there. Baseball is a meritocracy most of the time and they earned it. Yes, it’s outrageously fun to wind-up overly-defensive and self-serious Cardinals fans and to watch Giants fans pretend that their passionate support for the orange and black isn’t directly tied to the team’s winning percentage over the years, but their teams are still playing, ours are not and ultimately we need to shut up about it. Or, if we don’ shut up, we need to appreciate that we’re just whining.

More cosmically speaking, maybe we also need to realize the Cardinals and Giants advancing is a sign of hope. No, I mean it! Hope that we don’t live in a cold and uncaring universe in which perversity is allowed to reign and there is no connection whatsoever between good decisions and good outcomes. Say what you want about the Giants and Cardinals, but there is no escaping that they are well-run teams led by competent people.

Bruce Bochy has held two managerial jobs and he held them both for a long damn time because (a) he produces and wins; and (b) never gives anyone a really good reason to question him. Dude knows what the hell he’s doing and if you say you wouldn’t hand your team over to him in a second you’re either lying or crazy. Likewise, Brian Sabean may have provided saber-oriented and saber-sympathizing writers reason to squawk once upon a time, but we one-time squawkers were proven decidedly wrong about him and his methods. He has not only built winners, but he has fixed flawed teams on the fly — this year was a wonderful example of that — and no matter his missteps over the years, he is easily one of the best GMs in the game.

[ RELATED: Looking back at Don Mattingly’s Game 4 decisions ]

In St. Louis, no, I wouldn’t say Mike Matheny is the best manager around. Even Cardinals fans will admit that he drives them crazy sometimes. But for as much as he does that makes people scratch their heads, he merely sits at the front of a strong organization that most clubs would do well to emulate. I’ll continue to roll my eyes at St. Louis fans invoking “The Cardinal Way” as if it were some evidence of moral superiority or a divine calling rather than a simple organizational philosophy, versions of which many other clubs have, but there is no mistaking that the Cardinals are a supremely well-run baseball team.

Against that backdrop, let’s ask ourselves what is worse: seeing the same two teams battle once again or, on the other hand, seeing decision makers like Don Mattingly and Matt Williams rewarded?

I’m sure Mattingly and Williams are nice men. I’m sure the Dodgers and Nationals have their reasons for hiring them and/or retaining them and that soon, possibly as soon as next year, both of those teams could easily win a World Series. But if we’re talking about what is annoying and irksome and what may make us root against someone in the playoffs, wouldn’t it be more irksome for managers to pull the kind of stuff they pulled in the Division Series and be rewarded with advancement? Pushing the buttons the book tells them to push as if it were a game in July but, somehow, never pushing the big, red flashing button that says “USE YOUR BEST PLAYERS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE“? That’s the kind of stuff that should make you want to rip your eyes out of your sockets.

[ RELATED: Matt Williams’ must-win strategy could use some work ]

There really is no excuse for benching Yasiel Puig in an elimination game. There’s no excuse for using the pitchers Matt Williams used in live-or-die game last night. If Mattingly and Williams were somehow rewarded for that — or if Brad Ausmus were when the Tigers were still alive — it would be evidence that the universe doesn’t care and that every solid and considered effort you make to get forward in this horrible series of sufferings that is life is for nought. That the smiling, uncaring and coasting imbecile to your left has every bit the chance you do to get ahead before we all die and that we may as well just throw our hands up in the air and wait for the sun to go supernova and wipe us all out rather than actually try.

Maybe that’s still how things work. But for now, anyway, I choose to have a shred of hope. To believe that competence like that demonstrated by the Cardinals and Giants is, on occasion, rewarded. And that blinkered fecklessness like that displayed by the eliminated managers in this postseason is punished. That this, above all else, is what the 2014 postseason is teaching us.

And no, my little theory here has no idea how to account for this guy:


source: Getty Images

I’ll get back to you when I can explain him.

Cardinals beat Brewers, both clinch postseason berths

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. LOUIS — Harrison Bader tripled and homered to help the St. Louis Cardinals clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season with a 5-2 win over Milwaukee, and the Brewers also earned a playoff spot Sunday via help on the West Coast moments later.

St. Louis (30-28) will be the fifth seed in the NL and open a three-game wild-card series at San Diego on Wednesday. By winning, the Cardinals avoided having to travel to Detroit for two makeup games Monday. St. Louis finished the regular season with 23 games in 18 days as it made up a slew of postponements caused by a coronavirus outbreak in the clubhouse.

“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”

The Brewers (29-31) locked up the eighth seed and a third consecutive postseason berth after the Padres beat San Francisco 5-4 in a game that ended about 15 minutes after St. Louis’ victory. The Giants finished with an identical record as the Brewers but lost out on a tiebreaker due to an inferior intradivision record.

“It’s fitting for 2020 and everything we went through,” Brewers left fielder Christian Yelich said. “It felt just as good as past years. This year’s a unique one. There’s so many challenges we had to go through on a daily basis behind the scenes, things you don’t deal with in a normal year.”

Milwaukee will face the top-seeded Dodgers in Los Angeles in a three-game series that also starts Wednesday.

The Brewers haven’t had a winning record at any point this season. Milwaukee and Houston will be the first teams ever to qualify for the playoffs with a losing mark.

“It’s a celebration,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it. There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”

Cardinals starter Austin Gomber allowed one run, one hit and two walks and struck out three over four innings.

Giovanny Gallegos (2-0), Genesis Cabrera and Alex Reyes combined to pitch the final five innings. Reyes got his first save.

“We’d have been happy getting in as the eight seed,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “We’d have been happy being the one seed, but people can say we got in if there was no expanded playoffs so that’s even another feather in this group’s cap.”

Brett Anderson (4-4) surrendered a triple to Bader and a walk to Tyler O'Neill to start the third inning before departing with a blister on his left index finger. Anderson opened the season on the injured list with a blister on the same finger and did not make his debut until Aug. 3.

Freddy Peralta replaced him a day after being activated from the paternity list, and O’Neill promptly stole second. Kolten Wong then hit a line drive off Peralta’s leg that Peralta threw into right field to score Bader and O’Neill.

Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong each added RBI singles to push the St. Louis lead to 4-0.

After Milwaukee scored in the top of the fifth, Bader hit his fifth home run of the season.

“That was a big counterpunch,” Shildt said of Bader. “Got them on their heels again.”

THREE TIMES THE FUN

Yadier Molina grounded into a triple play in the eighth inning when he hit a one hop grounder to Jace Peterson at third base in the eighth inning. It was Milwaukee’s first triple play since Sept. 23, 2016, when Cincinnati’s Joey Votto lined out to first base. Molina was also the last Cardinals player to hit into a triple play when he grounded out to third base at Boston on Aug. 15, 2017.

TRAINING ROOM

Brewers: Counsell said it was too early to prognosticate Anderson’s status after departing with the blister.

Cardinals: St. Louis president of baseball operations John Mozeliak announced that RHP Dakota Hudson will have Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Monday. Hudson went 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts before leaving his start on Sept. 17 at Pittsburgh with right elbow discomfort after two innings.

UP NEXT

Brewers: The Brewers head to Los Angeles and will likely be without two of their top starters in Anderson and Corbin Burnes, who sustained a left oblique injury on Thursday.

Cardinals: This will be the fourth postseason series between St. Louis and San Diego, who faced each other in 1996, 2005, and 2006 in the Division Series.