The games are over. Let the games begin!
Congratulations to the St Louis Cardinals, 2011 world Series champions. Baseball’s equivalent of the Little Engine that Could, they kept at it against impossible odds in September. Then in the first series against Philly. Then in game six, down to their very last strike not just once, but twice. As much as I was fully rooting for Texas, I have to tip my hat to the cards. Their victory was well-earned and capped off one of the most exciting baseball seasons of my life. Who could have foreseen Atlanta and Boston both self-destructing in epic fashion in september? Could have seen the reigning World Series champions bow out early (OK- answer to that one: I could!), or Jose Bautista prove to the world that he wasn’t merely a one-hit wonder? Who would have predicted the most exciting tense pitching duel in the playoffs since the 1991 series… and that it would involve two buddies , both out of the Toronto system, facing each other?
The year shows several things which I take to be encouraging. I hope Alex anthopolous does too, because it shows that next year could be the Jays year. Because neither St Louis nor texas were super-teams in conventional wisdom this year. Both were outspent by mediocre teams in their own divisions. Neither were any better than 20-1 odds to win the world Series back in Spring training, while Philadelphia and Boston were both sitting pretty at about 3-1. While both teams have superstars, neither lineup is totally stacked. But they did what the free-spending, celebrity-encrusted Phillies, Yankees and Imploding red sox failed to do: win when it counted. The Jays should use them as a template to glory.
First thing I notice about the two teams: they have a good mix of young and old. The Rangers rode on the enthusiasm of youngsters like Elvis Andrus and Derek Holland, but had a rock in the clubhouse with Michael Young who, like teammate Adrian Beltre, collected his 2000th hit during the season. A veteran presence. Likewise, the Cards leaned on superstars Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter time and time again and were seldom disappointed, but ultimately young no-names like Allen Craig and david Freese got it done for the Show Me State by showing how it was done.
The Jays need to take note of that. As good as their core of youngsters (Brett Lawrie, Eric thames, JP Arencibia etc) are , no team lately has moved onto a championship solely on the basis of good young kids with energy. Teams like Tampa and Arizona who tried to play it that way surprised their fans but ultimately couldn’t hold their own when October rolled around. Nor, it’s worth noting, did teams comprised mostly of aging veterans like the Yankees or Phillies seem to have enough energy left to do much after 162 games. A balance is needed, just as toronto had back in the day— 1992, remember the impact of Dave Winfield and Jack Morris to the roster filled out with a young Roberto Alomar and John Olerud? It would behoof the Jays to go out and find a couple of good, stable 30+ guys to anchor the roster and give them that mix next season.
Second, this year showed the importance of being open-minded…and of scouting. How many people made funof the Cardinals for signing Lance Berkman? To play outfield no less. Other teams could have bid on him, but conventional wisdom said his declining numbers in Houston showed him to be at the tail-end of his career. The Comeback Player of the Year award now on his mantle and his World Series ring would suggest the cards knew better. Likewise, within the span of a week both the angels and our Jays gave up on Mike Napoli, believing him to be incapable of catching, or as Mike Sciosia now tries to paint it as an adequate catcher who suffered from durability issues. The Rangers traded a prime relief pitcher to get him and were widely dissed for it. Until September when his average rocked .320… and until, of course the World Series. On a lesser note, the Yankees hobbled into the playoffs with a rotation duck-taped together by the use of Freddy Garcia and Bartolo colon, which would have looked great if it was still 2003! two pitchers considered washed up who hung in there all year and exceeded expectations and helped the Y’s win the division. The Blue Jays need to learn from this and evaluate low-end free agents carefully to find the gem mixed in that has been discarded by the Bigger Minds of the game.
Enjoy your parade, St Louis! Come on up to Yonge Street next November to take part in ours!