By Tony Hooker
Both the Cardinals and the Cubs were exposed in the first round of the playoffs.
The Cardinals pitching, which had been so stellar during their crazy run of COVID-induced double headers, got lit up by the young and talented San Diego Padres. Their ERA for the series was an unimpressive 6.12. Of course, this stat is highly inflated by the game 2 home run derby put on by the Pads, when it seemed like everyone ever associated with the organization, including 60-year-old John Kruk and the ghost of Tony Gwynn hit bombs. The fact of the matter is, the Cardinals offense was anemic all season long, as management stood fast and counted on improvement from several players that simply didn’t happen. Salt in the wound was watching former redbirds Luke Voit and Marcell Ozuna mash the baseball, with Ozuna hitting 18 in the regular season and adding another in the playoffs. According to the superb baseball reference site, his 18 homers would have translated to 35 in a normal season. Luke Voit hit 22 regular season home runs and added another postseason shot. The Cardinals were led by Paul Goldschmidt, who hit 7 in the regular season and two in the division series, proving that power outages aren’t limited to the state of California.
And then there’s the Cubs.
The baby bears hit a paltry .145 during their division series. Linchpin’s Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo went a combined 0-16, with Javy Baez getting just one hit to set his average at .125. During the regular season, Rizzo hit .222 and Bryant was at .206 as the team struggled to a .220 BA. On the mound, the Cubs pitching was good enough to beat the Marlins, but not good enough to withstand such poor offense. It was good to see Yu Darvish regain his form. Darvish and his wide assortment of pitches earned an ERA of 2.01 in the regular season and looks to be a mainstay once again. Kyle Hendricks also seems to be finding himself as a starter, and Craig Kimbrel pitched well in a limited post appearance after a nightmarish start to 2020.
Where do they go from here?
The Cardinals seem content to do what they do, which is to fall somewhere between average and good. The ownership and management seem to be risk averse, and haven’t made the big splash moves to make them a WS contender, and that’s the way they will likely remain, unless young outfielders like Harrison Bader and Paul O’Neill suddenly begin to hit for power and average. They have statistically the best defense in the national league and solid pitching, but not a lot of RBI’s to be found in the lineup as currently constructed.
The Cubs are in the same sort of predicament, really. Both teams are in what I like to call the ‘friendzone’ of baseball. Good enough to contend for a playoff spot, but not good enough to win it all. It’s hard to believe that four years ago, Chicago had one of the youngest starting lineups in the majors as they won the world series. Nagging injuries to key players, along with suspect pitching, seems to have nipped the dynasty in the bud. With the architect of the WS team, Theo Epstein, on the last year of his contract, this offseason could prove to be a wild one for the north siders. Baseball, like all professional sports, is cruel. There is always a team or player trying to take your place in the pecking order. That’s why it’s so unpredictable. That’s also why I find it so captivating.