Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals, the 2006 World Series Champions. You'd have made good money for picking that before the playoffs started. Indeed, you'd have got fairly decent odds on that before the World Series started, especially in as quickly as five games. The Tigers had a full week of rest after sweeping the A's, while the Cardinals limped in with their ace not available until game three. But the layoff seemed to affect Detroit badly, judging by their mistake-strewn performance.
They made at least one error every night - eight in total. Nate Silver points out that during the regular season, "Tigers pitchers had a respectable .939 fielding percentage. During the World Series, Tigers pitchers made five errors in 17 chances. The odds of that happening based on chance alone are 355-to-1 against. During the regular season, Detroit's leadoff hitters got on base 33 percent of the time. During the World Series, their leadoff men reached base five times in 44 plate appearances. The odds of that happening based on chance alone are 843-to-1 against."
For even more crucially, the Tigers were limited to just eleven runs in five games, and you won't take many series that way. Looking in more depth, at individual performance, their outfield trio of Granderson, Monroe and Ordonez went a combined .117 (7-for-60) against St. Louis, and Polanco was worse yet, going hitless in 17 at-bats. Even Pudge managed only 3-for-19, meaning that those five, everyday starters for Detroit batted like pitchers (.104 overall, 10-for-96) in the series. That proved way too much of a handicap for the Tigers to overcome, even with Sean Casey going 9-for-17, while Guillen and Inge both hit better than .350.
But it's true to say that the Cardinals won this, every bit as much as the Tigers lost it. While their hitting in October was nothing to write home about (they scored only 4.0 runs per game), World Series MVP David Eckstein - that's a phrase I never thought I'd see! - hit .364 and Scott Rolen .421. But it was their pitching that really blossomed in the post-season, with a miniscule 2.68 ERA over the sixteen contests, and a great K:BB ratio of 107:48. If they had an overall MVP, it would probably be Jeff Weaver, who had a 2.43 ERA in five starts - that completes an amazing turnaround in his career.
He was designated for assignment by Anaheim on June 30, in part because brother Jered had been so effective since his promotion from the minors. The Cardinals worked out a trade, getting Jeff for a minor-league outfielder and $2.5m in cash - they needed an arm to replace Mark Mulder, out because of shoulder problems. [Fun to speculate on "what if" injuries to Mulder and their closer, Isringhausen, hadn't happened...] But they got rather more than that in Weaver: not that you'd know it from his regular-season outings, where he had an ERA of over five, as the Cardinals sputtered towards the playoffs. But once they reached them, he was impeccable, and in less than four months, has gone from being DFA'd, to being the winner of the clinching game in the World Series. Quite the Cinderella story.
Indeed, much the same could be said of the Cardinals as a whole, whom nobody gave a chance at the start of the post-season. They had the worst record by five games, and even those 83 wins were in undeniably the worst division, of probably the lesser league. They were fourteen worse than the Mets - the only National League team anyone thought stood a chance. But it all came together at the right time, and after a couple of World Series where the American League has steam-rollered us, it was nice to see the boot being placed on the other foot. That was the best result for an NL team in the World Series since the Reds swept the A's back in 1990. Now, if only we can win the All-Star game and get home-field advantage...
Needless to say Viva El Birdos are somewhat happy this morning: "My hat's off to Duncan and La Russa -- they had the right guys on the mound in the right situations, and they they had beautiful game plans for the opposition." Bless You Boys is, equally naturally, a bit disappointed, but want to look forward, rather than what might have been: "There are several positive building blocks we as fans can look forward to for the future. Perhaps getting these chances for titles may become somewhat of a trend?" Certainly, the Tigers do not look like a "one and done" champion; the core of their team, not least their phenomenal pitching, should be back next year.
And with that, we can draw a line under the 2006 major-league season, though we still have the various awards to be handed out as we move into November. The first marker on the road to next year's Spring Training takes place immediately: as npineda noted in the diaries, we now get to see who files for free agency. They have 15 days to do so, I believe, and during this time, their current club has exclusive negotiating rights, though I believe players can have "general discussions" with other clubs, but since they can't discuss contract details, it seems somewhat pointless. "Hey, how ya doing, Yankees? Nice weather for the time of year, isn't it. What about them Cardinals, eh? Oh, sorry - my mistake, George..." Will take a look at the NL West free agents tomorrow, comparing the various clubs to see how the changes stack up.
The AFL All-Star Game was won by the East Rising Stars, who beat the West Rising Stars 3-1, in a surprisingly low-scoring game. Three AZ prospects took part: Danny Richar and Mark Reynolds made the starting lineup for the East, at 2B and LF respectively, while James D'Antona came into the game during the sixth inning at first-base. Neither of the first two managed a hit, but D'Antona doubled in the seventh, driving in the go-ahead tally on a hit-and-run play, then coming round to score himself. 2,373 was the officially-announced attendance, and I think it'll become a regular feature of the AFL. Just hopefully somewhere a little closer.
And I think that will do for the moment. I'll quietly shuffle off the stage and let the Cardinals bask in their biggest moment since 1982...