The St. Louis Cardinals took two of three from the World Champion Boston Red Sox this weekend. This, after getting swept by the god-awful Kansas City Royals a few days before.
I wanted to know if the Cardinals were a team that just played to the level of the competition, and what we saw this weekend was, at least anecdotally, a pretty good indication that it may be the case.
The Cards struggle to score against the Royals at home. They drop three straight to one of the worst teams in baseball, looking utterly lifeless for pretty much the whole series. They then go to Boston, playing one of the best teams in the game, and the best home team in something like forty-five years, and play brilliant ball, taking two of three and failing to sweep largely because of some very poor base-running by everyone's favorite wookie, Chris Duncan.
So, did we learn anything about the team from this series? Sadly, I honestly have to say that I really don't think we did. The Cardinals proved again, as they have every other time they've played a really great team, that they have the talent to compete, and the toughness to hand in against any team in baseball. Unfortunately, it's the same old story.
They beat teams like the Cubs and the Red Sox and then lay an egg against the Royals and Pirates. It's utterly maddening.
There were some encouraging signs against Boston. Probably the best thing about the entire series, to me at least, was the offensive performance they put up against Daisuke Matsuzaka in Saturday's game. Now, don't get me wrong, any team should have knocked Dice-K around that day; he was just flat out awful. But what was encouraging was that we saw them take the absolute perfect approach against Matsuzaka. He's a pitcher that, when he's right, throws pitches just out of the zone that hitters constantly try to hit and earn themselves only a trip back to the dugout for their trouble. When he's wrong, he just can't find the edges and pretty much walks anyone who can keep the bat on their shoulder.
Either way, when facing a pitcher like that, the best thing to do is try to be patient. You have to make him work, wait him out. Swing less often, but make them count. The Cardinals did that on Saturday, allowing Dice-K to hang himself with high pitch counts and free passes. It was as good a job of deconstructing a pitcher as you're ever going to see. Again, Matsuzaka was terrible, and absolutely should have gotten crushed. Even so, though, a team has to be willing to take what a pitcher gives them if they wish to be successful. That's exactly what we saw on Saturday, from a team who has had more than their fair share of plate approach issues in the recent past.
The toughness this team showed in coming back against the scariest young reliever in the game, after the Cards' own young turk melted down in the previous half inning, cannot be overstated. Teams just don't come back against Jonathan Papelbon. Yet the Cardinals managed to do so, and forced the Sox to play them for three more innings before Kevin Youkilis finally got a bad enough pitch that he could lose it.
All in all, I have to say it was one of the best series I can remember seeing. Two teams, one verifiably great and the other doing their damnedest to convince everyone they just might be, duking it out all weekend in a national landmark.
Still, though, the Cardinals somehow managed to find themselves losing a game to the Cubs over the weekend. The Northsiders swept their crosstown rivals, the White Sox, in a weekend series of their own.
I'm increasingly afraid that the Cards' failure to gain any ground while the Cubs were being kicked around by the Tampa Bay Rays is going to end up factoring large into the eventual outcome of this year's divisional race. Very disheartening to see the team go head to head with a gorilla of a team and come out on the winning end, only to still fall further back. Blech.
Oh, well. No use in worrying about it now. There's still plenty of season left to surprise us. Everybody enjoy the off-day, and I'll be back tomorrow to talk about the Tigers and just what's going on in Detroit this year.