Monday, October 17, 2011

It Is High, It Is Far, It Is... Caught By the Second Baseman

This was a weekend of mixed emotions around the NFL. While everyone enjoys watching Rex Grossman get pulled at the half after delivering one of his patented 4 interception games, it is always painful to watch the Fitzmagic fall short. I am currently on edge because my gritty fantasy squad of "Revis Saves" is currently trailing its matchup by 0.25 points, and need Plaxico Burress (it's a deep league) and Calvin Pace (OK, it's a REALLY fucking deep league) to combine for more than 0.5 points. However, last night was ultimately salvaged by the Cardinals win over the Brewers in game 6 of the NLCS. It's not that I'm a Cards fan, I am merely a fan of teams that clinch on the road. I watched the crowd in Milwaukee sit in stunned silence for a good 10 minutes last night, and thoroughly enjoyed the cutaway shots to small children openly weeping at their bloodied and beaten corpse of a team. And so I'm going to put the roller coaster football weekend aside for a moment to discuss that other sport that's going on right now (No it's not hockey, and fuck you for even thinking it).

One month ago, it seemed as though all the big market teams were going to cruise through the season and were destined to meet in the playoffs. A World Series matchup of the Phillies and the Yanks / Red Sox seemed inevitable then, and many fans are still scratching their heads over the quick turnaround. While the number one (Yankees) and number two (Phillies) spending teams managed to buy enough wins to reign over their respective conferences, both these teams were shocked in the LDS by underpaid underdogs. Of the four teams that advanced to the LCS, the Tigers spent the most, standing in at 10th in the majors. Of the two remaining teams, the Cardinals are 11th and the Rangers are 13th.

While teams like the Yankees and the Sox always seem to have enough wins to advance to the regular season (except for this year), the postseason is a different story. The team that won it all last year did so with terrible free agent acquisitions. The 2010 San Francisco Giants managed to win it all when their 4 highest paid players were: Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, Edgar Renteria, and Pat Burrell. Overcoming massive blunders like those is quite the feat. Their 4 highest paid players from last year: didn't make the postseason roster, was designated for assignment and subsequently released earlier this year, and are Edgar Renteria and Pat Burrell.

This year's teams didn't make blunders as costly as those, but they did manage to win with low-cost moves, and smart, savvy decision-making up top. The St Louis Cardinals managed to solidify the middle of their lineup by bringing in a washed-up Lance Berkman, and secured the back of their rotation after trading away a budding young star in Colby Rasmus for Edwin "How is he pitching this well" Jackson.

However, it's the Rangers' moves that have impressed me the most. After bringing up a stable of young pitchers through trades and their farm system, they decided to go all in on offense. After the 2010 season, they were sitting pretty with a very potent offense. Instead of being complacent, the Rangers set goals and achieved them. By pursuing Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre, the Rangers created a lineup that does not have a weak spot from the 1 to the 9, and these two additions managed to combine for 62 home runs and 180 RBIs (despite Napoli's injury-plagued season).

No analyst would have predicted a Cardinals-Rangers World Series back in March, but I'm glad to see that parity endures. It's impossible to predict which direction the league will move in the upcoming years, but this has been the year of the small(er)-market teams and I, for one, am glad to see it.

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