The Cards & Giants Again Win NL Division Series

The NL Division Series are both over, as the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants finished off four-game series wins in front of their home fans, each using key seventh innings to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals respectively, with each game ending 3-2.

I know every series has its own dynamic, but as I watched both of these series, I had a hard time getting past the one common thread that seemed to overwhelm about everything else—the teams that won had championship toughness, and the teams that lost were more talented, but mentally softer.
That’s harsh, and perhaps in the case of the Dodgers, it’s too harsh. Los Angeles, like the Detroit Tigers, is deficient in the bullpen, so maybe the LA problem is that the talent isn’t properly distributed. And across the dugout, it’s not like Cardinals are filled with talentless stiffs. Nonetheless, if you asked me to pick one team’s roster, based purely on the ability to generate numbers, I would take the Dodgers.
BaseballI have no problem with applying that harsh judgment to the Nationals-Giants series. Washington is a significantly more talented baseball team than San Francisco. The Giants do have an edge in the bullpen, but not a prohibitive one, as was the case in the other three Division Series, all won by betting line underdogs.
Yet in the crucial seventh inning of Game 4, the Nationals literally gave the game away. The score was tied 2-2, and a wild pitch let in the winning run. On the ensuing batter, Washington was unable to even execute an intentional walk without drama, throwing another wild pitch, and bailed out only by a short backstop that allowed them to get Buster Posey at the plate.
I won’t say you’d never see San Francisco or St. Louis lose a game this way—play any sport long enough and every team can lose in any sort of fashion. But it certainly seemed to sum up this series.

The other common thread that drew the Dodgers and Nationals together, and it’s directly related to the mental softness issue is a lot of complaining. Los Angeles’ Justin Turner, in the ninth inning, put on an extended display of complaining about a strike call that was borderline.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with giving the umpire a look, maybe saying something as you get back on the box, but the need to stand outside the box and keep griping tells you something else is going on. This came on top of Matt Kemp complaining loudly about the strike zone after Game 3.
In the case of Washington, the incident was more understandable. Ian Desmond was called out on a check-swing call. It appeared to be a mistake to me, though it was close enough to go other way. And I completely agree with Fox Sports 1 analyst John Smoltz who said the umpire should have gotten help.
Nonetheless, in watching Desmond make an ultra-dramatic “Oh my (bleep)” movement of his mouth, the phrase “drama queen” did cross my mind. That is harsh, but it comes on top of watching Asdrubal Cabrera spike his helmet and get ejected in Game 2 over a strike call that was perfectly defensible.
In the end, it just seemed like Washington and Los Angeles didn’t know how to take a punch and get back up. Perhaps if they had gotten early momentum in the series and never had anything go wrong, their talent alone would have carried them. It’s possible, but at this level, there’s usually an opponent that can at least hit back.
St. Louis and San Francisco know how to punch back. That’s why they’ve combined to win the last four National League pennants, and have wrapped up making that five in a row. The National League Championship Series begins Saturday in St. Loo.