For years, local media hacks and management shills have been tirelessly promoting St. Louis Cardinals fans as baseball's best. Let me tell you something...it ain't so. I live here in Cardinal land, have even attended a few games. These fans are passive, uncritical, and slavishly obsequious. They attend games not to live and die with their team, question the manager's moves, scream at umpires, or heckle visiting teams...they go to have a summer night out with their neighbors. Baseball games in St. Louis are social events, times to catch up with their pals and drink a Bud or two under the stars. The game itself is just background noise, like a CD playing at a neighborhood barbecue.
Sitting behind me in the right-field loge seats at the last game I attended were two families, small kids and all, gossiping, playing word games, people watching, letting the youngsters run wild, and, in general, being oblivious to the game. Not one of them could have told you the score, the inning, the pitcher, even the opponent.
These same fans (I call them Red Sheep or Crimson Lemmings) took no notice when the Cardinals ended this regular season losing 14 of their last 21 games. All they knew was that the Cardinals won the NL Central and were going to the playoffs. Little was made of the sloppy defense, the god-awful relief pitching, the lack of timely hitting, Albert Pujols' slump, and all sorts of other dark omens.
So now that the Birds have laid an enormous egg in Game 1 of the playoffs, losing 5-3 to the LA Dodgers, the Red Sheep are livid. They are now suddenly and furiously spewing their anger and shock on chat forums, sports talk shows, and blogs. If only they'd been paying attention, they would have seen this coming. Here are the warning signs they missed, and here is what the embarrassingly uncritical St. Louis media glossed over:
Albert Pujols' career is in decline. He is now, according to some, in his mid-30s, a time when baseball skills erode. Albert has not hit a home run since Sept. 9, the longest drought of his career. His slump began after he participated in the home run derby at the All-Star game, an event which has ruined many power strokes. (Bobby Abreu has never been the same since winning it several years ago.) Albert is so confused and inept at the plate that he can barely hit a loud foul ball. Why Joe Torre is intentionally walking a virtually sure out is beyond me.
Matt Holliday, the team's heralded acquisition from Oakland, has not homered since Sept. 11. He and Pujols together have one home run in 156 at-bats.
Cardinal relief pitching is horrible, especially Kyle McClellan. McClellan single-handedly blew Adam Wainwright's 20th victory a week ago. He surrendered five runs in about three minutes. His ERA in September was near 50, and he has little control over his fastball. Last night he hit a batter, walked a man, gave up a hit, and...oh Christ, he's just terrible.
The offense can't get a big hit with runners on base. In game one of the NLDS they stranded 14 runners. 14!! The last of those were left on base by Rick Ankiel, aka the human strikeout machine. Ankiel has struck out five times more often than he has walked this year. That is sub-human futility.
Boy are the Crimson Lemmings going to be pissed off when LA completes the series sweep at Busch Stadium.