The St. Louis Cardinals solidified their status as the major league baseball version of the New England Patriots or the San Antonio Spurs. Just ruthlessly efficient, always in the mix and moving forward like a steamroller. That’s exactly what St. Louis was on Friday night, burying the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-0 and clinching the National League pennant for the fourth time in ten years.
There’s not a lot to say about last night’s game–really, how much can you analyze a 9-0 game that turned into a rout quickly, and TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage previously broke down the opening two games in St. Louis and the middle three matchups in Los Angeles. So let’s just take this time to offer some salutes and closing thoughts, as the National League season comes to a close…
*Michael Wacha was named NLCS MVP, an easy choice after he beat Clayton Kershaw twice and didn’t allow a single run. As previously noted in this space, Wacha was only the pitcher who won the must-win Game 4 in Pittsburgh during the Division Series and came within an out of a no-hitter in his final start of the regular season. Let’s just give the rookie his statue outside Busch Stadium right now.
*There was no one hitter who really had a big series for St. Louis, but Carlos Beltran had a clutch one. He hit a game-tying extra base hit early in Game 1 and later won it in extra innings. He had a big early hit last night. This is Beltran’s first trip to the World Series and one he has earned.
*Last night, homefield proved to be vital. Clayton Kershaw was awful, and it’s hard to think he would have been this bad in Dodger Stadium. Kershaw got some tough breaks in the strike zone that allowed the Cardinals to chip away for their first couple runs, but you can’t explain away a complete meltdown by two pitches that you should have gotten for a called third strike with two outs. That happens to everyone. It’s a valid excuse if you lose 3-2, not when you lose 9-zip.
*The Dodgers didn’t get what they came for–or what Magic Johnson’s front office paid for–but they weren’t without signature performances. Zack Greinke was great in his two starts, Adrian Gonzalez swung a very good bat and Carl Crawford played pretty well in this series and very well in the Division Series against Atlanta.
For all three, there’s a certain level of redemption. Greinke had a reputation as a player who might be skittish under pressure. Gonzalez and Crawford were part of the Boston Red Sox epic collapse of 2011 and their subsequent trade seen as the lynchpin for Boston’s revitalization. That’s true, but both players established that this was more about them–particularly Crawford–just not being the right fits for Boston, not that you couldn’t win with them.
Los Angeles goes into an offseason where they should be able to feel pretty good about the progress they made, but given how much money they have thrown around–and the competitiveness of their owner–I can’t imagine there will be much room for self-satisfaction. Magic will likely view this as the equivalent of losing the Western Conference Finals when he was with the Lakers.
The analogy is flawed, as the two sports and their competitive balance structures are different–for example, you almost never see an unknown rookie like Wacha make a big impact on the NBA playoffs–but there’s no question Los Angeles has put out the money to be the best and coming up two rounds short of the goal won’t be acceptable.
The World Series starts Wednesday night. St. Louis will travel to either Boston or Detroit for a rematch of a recent World Series. We just don’t know if it’s a rematch of 2004 or 2006.