ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 12: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals blows a bubble in the field against the Milwaukee Brewers during Game Three of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 12, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
I'm just going by what I've heard, here: At some point in all the rushed and unexpected postseason talk the Cardinals began playing the media role of grizzled, stone-cold mercenaries to the Brewers' effervescent kids. When this happened I was legitimately surprised by it. These are the young Cardinals! I remember it just this past June—It's the end of Tony's rope and Chris Carpenter doesn't have run support and Albert Pujols isn't doing what he usually does and there's Jon Jay, and Jaime Garcia, and—
And that's when I realized I'd been wrong all along. In baseball the story of a team sometimes takes a while to change, and sometimes it doesn't change at all; because they were novel to me I thought of this team as much in terms of Garcia, Jay, Descalso, Craig as I did Chris Carpenter or Yadier Molina. That works when you're watching a team all season and you have to follow things to keep yourself busy—this is the Tyler Green Exception—but if there's one good thing that's come from all this national media attention it's that it's reminded me just what's gotten into this 90-win squad.
Mostly old guys, as it turned out. 15 WAR from thirtysomething sluggers (luckily Albert Pujols has decided to hit like a 15 WAR thirtysomething slugger while the other two scuffle); 600 innings from thirtysomething pitchers on multiyear deals, 400 of which were pretty useful. Even the young guys aren't baseball-young; David Freese is 28, Jason Motte is 29, Craig and Jay are 26.
When the national types takes a five-second look at the media guide, then, and see Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, and a guy who looked old and pudgy and retirey with the Yankees exactly a year ago, they might have something in their snap judgment. The young guys have emerged not as impact players—the Colby Rasmus trade was the Cardinals tabling that possibility for the next couple of years—but as the kind of unassuming depth that leads to David Freese wearing out right fielders and the bullpen giving Tony La Russa the kind of pull-the-starter flexibility he only dreamed about in the regular season.
Mercenaries might not be the right word, though it sounds cool enough—and sets up enough of an artificial but entertaining contrast with the Brewers—that I might let it slide. There's something else going on, though—behind the efficient professionals is a second line of guys who have somehow graduated straight from AAAA hopefuls to prematurely grizzled efficient professionals. It's been great to see.
Bullpen notes: I might be reading too much into this, but with Fernando Salas's appearances at the start of a long bullpen night I think we're witnessing the beginning of a new "damage in the two hole"/"second leadoff hitter" tic in Tony La Russa's arsenal of slightly exotic baseball tactics. Tentative La Russa Construction: "First set-up guy."
Tentative La Russa explanation: "You know you want your big guys to come in early and set a tone, y'know, really—we'll use Salas anywhere, seventh, eighth, ninth, but you want your fifth inning guy to pitch—like it's the eighth inning, ninth inning, so we'll use him there. Any questions? You guys got anything else?"
Pujols notes: Albert Pujols has seven doubles in the postseason. He hit his seventh double of the regular season on June 4.
Superstition notes: On Monday nights I have a nonfiction workshop from seven to ten (MDT.) On Wednesday nights I have a fiction workshop from six to nine. Worth noting: I don't have a poetry workshop on, say, Thursday nights, which is good for everyone who has ever written, read, enjoyed, or even hoped for the continued existence of the art of poetry. It's bad news for people who are convinced, even a little, that baseball is a game defined primarily by the talent of the people playing it and secondarily by what those people are wearing and finally by the precise arrangement of the people watching and not watching the game at a given moment.
(I say this cavalierly, but if something goes wrong there's a non-zero chance I'll call someone up and ask them to tell me what sucks about my last short story and how much earlier I should bring in the main character until the Cardinals start hitting again. So fear not.)