The Red Sox are in St. Louis Tuesday to begin a three-game series against the Cardinals. You might remember it as the city where Clark Griswold refused to take his kids to the top of the Gateway Arch, or as home to Ted Drewe’s frozen custard. It’s also the place, you might recall, where Boston has won four of the last five World Series games it has played at whichever Busch Stadium is in use this decade.
Things have changed a bit since the last time the Sox played there. While the Cardinals are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, leading the race for the second wild card and only a game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central, the Red Sox arrive a team at a crossroads, a last-place bridge crossing the pinnacle of the sport and potential rewards in the near future. Felix Doubront and Jon Lester, the winning pitchers in World Series Games 4 and 5, respectively, are gone, as are Jake Peavy, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, and Andrew Miller. John Lackey won’t be making the trip either, primarily because he’s already in St. Louis, playing for the Cardinals.
The former Red Sox pitcher, traded to the Cardinals last Thursday during Ben Cherington’s roster purge, won his debut with St. Louis on Sunday, to the delight of the self-professed “best fans in baseball,” a golly-gee fan base that eerily resembles the zombie-like conformity of “The Lego Movie.” Indeed, Everything is Awesome in the Midwest, where the Cardinals apparently would never stoop to the rebuilding efforts in which the Red Sox currently find themselves.
“The Red Sox did what the Philadelphia Phillies failed to do once that team got old and plunged out of contention,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeff Gordon wrote. “The Red Sox hit the reset button while their assets still had value to other teams.
“Still, the Red Sox bailed out after winning a World Championship. That must be hard on Boston fans, who believe the world revolves around them.”
“And it must be gratifying for Cardinal Nation to realize that its team has not had to bail out despite a succession of unfortunate injuries.”
Hmm. Now, while I’m sure Mr. Gordon doesn’t necessarily need a scorecard to understand how many World Series titles the Red Sox have compared to the Cardinals since 2004 (It’s three to two, just in case you didn’t know), it is important to note that following its win in 2006, St. Louis didn’t make it back to the postseason until 2009, when the Cardinals were swept by the Dodgers. Again, in 2010, they didn’t make the playoffs, then won it all again in 2011. They’ve made it as far as the NLCS and the World Series each of the last two years.
Over that same stretch since 2004, the Red Sox have won the World Series three times, played in an ALCS, and lost two LCS series. They missed the playoffs four times to the Cardinals’ three.
Oh, but please. Preach, St. Louis.
“Injuries eliminated Cardinals MVP Yadier Molina and No. 2 starting pitcher Michael Wacha for months this season,” Gordon writes. “Jaime Garcia came off the disabled list and got hurt again, perhaps finishing his career in St. Louis.
“Those were major blows, the sort of epic misfortune that could derail a lesser team.
“In previous seasons the Cardinals took big hits, alternately losing pitching aces Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright to major surgery. Franchise cornerstone Albert Pujols left via free agency.
“Closer Jason Motte broke down and replacement closer Edward Mujica wore out. Injuries took out key position players like David Freese, Rafael Furcal, Kelly and Craig for months at a time.
“Adversity kept coming, year after year after year after year.”
“Yet the Cardinals kept competing and contending. They haven’t had to bail out and concede a season.”
HOW DO THEY DO IT?!
To be fair, Gordon likes what the Red Sox got back in the Lackey deal with the Cardinals, Allen Craig, who’s already on the disabled list, and Joe Kelly, who will make his Boston debut Wednesday night against his old team, with whom he had a minus 0.2 WAR this season. For better or worse, they’re now part of “the plan,” whatever that may be, even if it means the Sox intend on bottoming out with their “renewable talent base,” as Gordon puts it.
Not mentioned as part of the equation though is how out of the realm of unexpected last October’s title turned out to be, especially coming off a last place season in 2012, one that may find a similar booked two seasons later. It’s not like the Red Sox’ fire-sale came at the heels of a dynasty. What we’re watching now is really the fourth or fifth re-incarnation (depending on where you draw the lines) of the Red Sox since the ’04 win. How the Cardinals were able to sustain so well over the past decade is a mystery mostly because they didn’t. They had the same pitfalls as the Red Sox. Minus Bobby V.
Maybe the Cardinals are smarter than everybody else. They, after all, can still make the postseason, a distant dream these days for the Red Sox. It’s awesome in St. Louis. Everything.
It’s just that the lecture might work better if it didn’t come from a city where the Red Sox are 8-2 against the local baseball team in the last two World Series that they’ve played each other. That’s all.