Without characters and storylines, baseball is just a bunch of idiots running around wielding sticks, so of course baseball writers were going to contrive a narrative for a seven-game series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals that doesn't really feature a natural one. You could have written it out months ago and kept it on hand, like an obituary.
And it’s fitting that, in order to win their first pennant in a quarter century, the big-spending Dodgers will need to overcome the preeminent 'gamer' franchise in baseball... the Dodgers will need to out-grind the gritty Cardinals...
This isn’t just a clash of cultures, but of architecture. Bankrolled vs. Built. The Best Team Money Can Buy vs. the club now being called The Best Organization in Baseball. One of the teams was built from the draft up, the other from the pocketbook down.
This is a truly a clash of NL elite, whether that status has been reaped rapidly through inconceivably immense investing or strikingly shrewd scouting.
The thing about this is that it doesn't make any sense. The best player on this year's Cardinals was Matt Carpenter, a random guy who inexplicably played like peak Jeff Kent. The rest of the team's core was a group of highly-paid veterans—mercenaries, you might say. They were led by top star Matt Holliday—swiped from the small-market Oakland A's in 2010, and subsequently signed to a $120 million deal—and itinerant bat-for-hire Carlos Beltran. Catcher Yadier Molina, who backed them, is the second-highest paid catcher in the history of the National League; pitcher Adam Wainwright is due $98 million on a deal that doesn't even start until next year. The roster is filled out by a bunch of bland, competent, anonymous white guys. Whatever.
The core of this year's Dodgers, actually, is strikingly more interesting. The team's star is Clayton Kershaw, a homegrown, historically great ace who's still in the underpaid part of his career and hasn't yet signed a big contract. Behind him are Hanley Ramirez, who the Dodgers picked up as scrap last year because everyone assumed he was washed up; Yasiel Puig, a brilliant rookie who escaped from a Communist regime last year and had to fight his way into the majors this year, and (coming in above better paid teammates by wins above replacement) fucking Juan Uribe, the longtime utility scrub best known for his presence on championship Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants teams that would have done fine without him.
Notable Cardinals supporting players include that one guy, what's his face, that guy who looks like your brother-in-law, and that dude no one gives a rat's ass about. The Dodgers, meanwhile, field gritty scrapping grindy grindering second baseman Mark Ellis, gritty scrapping grindering grindy grindering utilityman Nick Punto, and Skip Schumaker, the longtime Cardinal who was grown on a farm somewhere in downstate Illinois and nurtured to the sounds of KMOX radio as part of an experiment to see how scrappy and grindery and Cardinalsesque you can make a ballplayer without having him turn into a stalk of corn.
The Cardinals are managed by Mike Matheny, a longtime former player whom even most Cardinals fans couldn't identify. The Dodgers are managed by Don Mattingly, who is the state of Indiana—the grittiest of all states—burned down into a fine powder, distilled, and refined.
It's true that the Dodgers spent more money on players this year than the Cardinals did, but vast portions of it didn't end up on the field. (That a guy in a suit somewhere spent a lot of money on them doesn't mean that Matt Kemp and Josh Beckett are actual threats to the casserole-wielding force that is Cardinaldom.) The actual players the Dodgers are sending out to compete for a pennant starting tonight are mostly a collection of scrubs, internationals plucked from who knows where, and washed-up veterans whose success represents a triumph partly of Dodgers banking, partly of Dodgers scouting, and mostly of Dodgers balls. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are just running out a bunch of pricey stars surrounded by no-account bums named Chip and Flip, some of whom had flukishly good years and all of whom will soon return to the agricultural wastelands from whence they came and be replaced by equally anonymous ciphers as part of the Cardinals' long-term project of demonstrating that everyone is equally replaceable once they're made the property of an intelligently run corporation. If you're one of the Best Fans In Baseball, it's understandable why you'd root red. For everyone who values human individuality, the gritty gaming of gamers or pretty much anything else not attached to the rolling riot that is metro St. Louis, the choice is equally clear.
Image via Getty