The Cardinals are boring

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Hey, I’m not slamming them. That’s a direct quote from their general manager in this Bob Nightengale column:

The St. Louis Cardinals are the team the tabloids and shock-jock shows love to hate. You looking for a juicy quote? Maybe stir up a little controversy? Sorry, wrong camp . . . “We are boring,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak says.

. . . They are dull, dreary and monotonous. All they know how to do is win.

Adam Wainwright agrees they’re boring too. Says so right in the column.

Know what, though? I bet they’re not as boring as they let on. No one can be that boring, actually. What I think is really happening is that a reporter came into the clubhouse with the same sort of angle a lot of reporters have had on the Cardinals over the past several years — class acts, “they just go about their business,” etc. — and the team is smart enough not to push back against it. Partially because it’s flattering. Mostly because what the hell do most ballplayers care what the media narrative is? If the media and a segment of their fan base like to portray them as “aw shucks” Johnny Lunchbuckets, who are they to stop it? There are guys on other teams who would KILL for that kind of free pass from the media. Heck, A-Rod has had to engage in a year-long full court press just to be compared to deadly cancer as opposed to a literal murderer.

But it is important to realize that, whatever its source and no matter what amount of truth there is to the “the Cardinals are just a bunch of boring guys who just want to win” narrative, it is, in fact, just a narrative. A narrative that is different than that which gets applied to a lot of other teams, but one which works the same way as all narratives work: post hoc, and determined by the won-loss total. All narratives work backwards from winning or losing.

I figure the Cardinals will win a lot this year, and that a take like Nightengale has here will be seen as prescient (or a repeat from the last several years). But if they lose 90 somehow, what then? Maybe they didn’t have enough fire! It’s the reverse of that which applies to a team which wins with colorful characters. Win 95 and they’re lovable idiots. Lose 95 and they’re distractions. It’s not a long drive from Cowboying Up to Chicken and Beer. All that matters is the win total.

Talent determines who wins, mostly. That other stuff is just the vanilla sprinkles around the edges. Even if that other stuff takes on outsize significance in interviews and columns after the winning or losing is done. It’s understandable. We human beings have a few million years of evolution under our belts, and a big part of that evolution is attributable to understanding the world via stories and narratives which allow us to communicate things effectively via shorthand. It’s way easier to tell the next generation where the bison are or when the river will flood as a result of that shorthand than it is to start from scratch each generation.

Sports are no different. We tell stories about how they work because it’s easier than figuring out how applied athletic talent works in purely concrete terms. Especially to people who don’t much like math. Plus, we like to give meaning to the bison and the floods and the winning because it makes us feel less insignificant in the world. The river god flooded the valley because he loves us and wants our crops to grow. The baseball team won the game because its players are good and virtuous.

Which brings us back to the Cardinals. Yes, they win a lot of games. And yes they’ve done so while carrying themselves professionally and while mostly being good, boring boys. But make no mistake: they’ve done it mostly because they’ve had a lot of damn good baseball players, not because of their culture. I mean, Adam Wainwright could shave his head, put on crazy makeup and give interviews like he was Hawk from the Road Warriors and he’d still mow down the opposition most nights.

Why? Because he’s a good ballplayer. and that’s what matters most.

 

Dodgers clinch NL’s top seed, West title with win over A’s

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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Wrapping up an NL West title has become routine for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but in a year in which no one was sure three months ago if there would be a baseball season, manager Dave Roberts wanted his team to still savor the moment.

The Dodgers clinched the NL’s top postseason seed and eighth straight division title Tuesday night with a 7-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics. They are third team to win at least eight straight division titles, joining the Atlanta Braves (14 straight from 1991-2005) and New York Yankees (nine straight from 1998-2006).

“To fast forward a couple months and be crowned NL West champs is a credit to everyone. It should never be taken for granted,” Roberts said. “Truth be told a lot of guys didn’t know we could clinch. We were responsible but I let it know that it has to be appreciated.”

The Dodgers, who own the best record in the majors at 39-16, were the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff berth on Sept. 16. They will open postseason play on Sept. 30 by hosting every game in a best-of-three series against the No. 8 seed.

Los Angeles came into the day with a magic number of two and got help with the Angels’ 4-2 victory over the San Diego Padres.

Instead of a wild celebration on the mound after Jake McGee struck out Sean Murphy for the final out, players briskly walked out of the dugout to celebrate with teammates. Everyone grabbed a division clinching shirt and cap before heading to the mound for a group photo.

The clubhouse celebration was also muted. Champagne was still involved, but it was players toasting each other with a glass instead of being showered in it.

“We talked about it instead of dumping stuff on people. It’s a moment you need to celebrate and we did,” said Corey Seager, who had three hits and one of Los Angeles’ four home runs, “It stinks not being able to do champagne and beer showers because some of the younger guys haven’t been able to experience that.”

Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock also went deep for Los Angeles, which leads the majors with 104 home runs.

“This whole year has been weird. There’s no other way to describe it,” Muncy said. “It’s sad not to be celebrate as usual but we know there is a lot more at stake.”

Dustin May (2-1) went five innings and allowed two runs on three hits. The 22-year-old red-headed righty set a team record by not allowing more than three earned runs in his first 13 career starts, which include 10 this season.

Robbie Grossman homered for Oakland, which clinched its first AL West crown in seven years on Monday during a day off. The Athletics, in the postseason for the third straight year, currently are the AL’s No. 3 seed.

Mark Canha had two of Oakland’s five hits.

Seager tied it at 1 in the first with an RBI single and then led off the fifth with a drive to center off T.J. McFarland to extend LA’s lead to 6-2.

Muncy gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the third inning with a two-run homer. Taylor and Pollock extended it with solo shots in the fourth off Oakland starter Frankie Montas (3-5).

Grossman quickly gave Oakland a 1-0 lead when he homered off the left-field pole in the first inning. Sean Murphy briefly gave the Athletics a 2-1 advantage when he led off the third with a walk and scored on a wild pitch by May with two outs.

Montas, who allowed only four home runs in his first seven starts, has given up six in his past three. The right-hander went four innings and yielded five runs on seven hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

“They’re a pretty good team that when you make mistakes, they make you pay,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “They’re pretty good laying off and making you throw it over the plate. They made Montas pay, unfortunately.”

Cody Bellinger added two hits for the Dodgers, including an RBI single with the bases loaded in the seventh.

ATHLETICS ADVANCE

The A’s have a team text thread they used to celebrate clinching their first AL West title since 2013 during their off day Monday, when the Mariners beat Houston.

“We didn’t really celebrate too much yet. It’s exciting,” Chad Pinder said. “We wanted to do it on our own terms. We still won the division and that was our goal. It’s nice to know we’ll be playing home for the series.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Athletics: INF/OF Pinder (strained right hamstring) planned to run at Dodger Stadium and test his leg with hopes of still playing before the conclusion of the regular season. …. RHP Daniel Mengden has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Las Vegas. He was designated for assignment after being medically cleared and reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list following a positive test from Aug. 28.

Dodgers: 3B Justin Turner was scratched from the lineup less than an hour before first pitch due to left hamstring discomfort He came off the injured list on Sept. 15 and has not played in the field since Aug. 28. … Joc Pederson was in the lineup at DH after missing five games while on the family emergency medical list. Roberts said before the game that he wasn’t sure if Pederson will remain with the team during the entire postseason.

UP NEXT

Athletics: LHP Sean Manaea (4-3, 4.50) is 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA over his last five starts dating to Aug. 20.

Dodgers: LHP Julio Urias (3-0, 3.49) will make his team-leading 11th start.

AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this story.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports