Thursday, December 28, 2006

End-of-Year Grades (part one: St. Louis)

St. Louis CardinalsFinal Grade: A
The postseason still lingers like a wonderful dream made all the more wonderful by the fact that it really happened. The end-of-year collapse saw a 7.5 game lead dwindle down to nothing but the sickening thought of the undeserving, underachieving Astros crashing the postseason party one more time at the Cardinals' expense. Then Spezio's miraculous triple against Milwaukee saved us for one more day, the last game of the season. We lost. But so did Houston. The clubhouse claimed the champagne tasted just as sweet, but backing into the playoffs never led to glory.

Then came the Padres, whom LaRussa keeps tucked away in his back pocket. Left coast pretenders. Surf and sun wannabes who couldn't hit a Cardinals pitching staff led by Cy Young ace Chris Carpenter. They were gone in four, leaving a gleeful chorus of Eastcoast Sports Promotion Network "experts" to pick the Mets in four or five.

How many unlikely heroes stepped into the lore of Cardinals legend in the NLCS? So Taguchi, hitting the unlikeliest of homers since Kirk Gibson to win game two. Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver, the journeyman and the reject, both stepping up to shut down the overrated Mets hitters. Yadi Molina, the defensive whiz who was an offensive whiz-in-your-pants all season hit the shot that gave the Cards the chance in game seven, leading to Adam Wainwright's two miraculous strikeouts, the final one coming with two outs and bases loaded. The Cardinals win the pennant! The Cardinals win the pennant! I could still hear Jack Buck urging us all to "go crazy," the voice of God's angel who spoke to me from the time I lay in my crib to the day he was called to the highest of all luxury boxes. At this point, just the pennant would have been enough.

But it wasn't. The World Series was reviled and ignored by the East Coast intelligentsia, odious hypocrites one and all, for if the Cardinals had been the Red Sox, they would have been celebrated as the ultimate team in overcoming adversity. Instead, the Cardinals were condemned as "not belonging" and "undeserving." But as Lou Brown told his Cleveland Indians in "Major League," "I'm for wasting sportwriters' time. Let's see if we can give them all a nice big shit sandwich to eat." Open wide, ESPNers. Anthony Reyes, remarkable. Chris Carpenter, transcendent. Jeff Suppan, reliable. Jeff Weaver, championship. Baseball's Field of Dreams has never really been in an Iowa cornfield; it's found in the shadow of the Arch in downtown St. Louis. We are the champions of the world.

St. Louis Ramsthird quarter grade: C+
This season is all about wasted opportunities. This is not a good football team, but it does have some good players—Bulger, Jackson, Holt, Bruce, Little, Wilkins—and some potential for improvement on both sides of the ball. But two blown games to the beatable Seahawks and that putrid roll-over-and-die loss to the excrement that is the Arizona Cardinals is the difference between winning the division and hoping desperately that the Giants, Panthers and Falcons all lose this weekend (certainly within the realm of possibility) while we beat the corpse of the Minnesota Vikings. If this all happens, then we get a wild card game, probably in Seattle, which we could win. I don't foresee the Rams reproducing the Cardinals miracle, but the late season surge does give me some hope that Scott Linehan can still be the right man for the job. Goal #1: Teach Alex Barron how to count and how to remember the correct snap count for 30 seconds at a time.

St. Louis Bluesfirst quarter grade: C- (up from F)
New head coach Andy Murray is doing remarkable things with this team. I watched a bit of a game from one of Mike Kitchen's last efforts, and the Blues looked like bar league players—slow, sluggish, confused, dispirited. In a memorable shootout loss to Nashville the other night, the Blues went toe-to-toe with the Central Division leaders and came within an inch of gaining the shootout victory. They probably won't make a run at the playoffs this year, but I have a good feeling that Murray is going to turn this Blues team into a club that no one else will want to play in the spring, especially teams who need points to stay in or get in to the playoffs. Legace's looking firm in goal, our veterans are charging the net and the youngsters are playing with speed and passion. I think Dave Checkett's rebuilding effort is starting to pay off.

Coming tomorrow (I promise!): Vikings, Colts & Chiefs


TUCK! said...

Wow, the rumors were true! You're alive and writing again. Welcome back.

Really enjoyed the Cards recap. Our WORLD SERIES CHAMPION tees arrived this week, and this sort of caps it all...I'm hoping there will still be other "stuff" (need a pennant for the basement) once the holidays die down to continue the celebration. Don't let the ESPN jackals of the world get you down (wasn't it odd how eerily silent Winer and Wingo were during those weeks?)...they don't matter. The more consideration they are given, the more power they have. I mean, come on, they have a show called "Stump the Schwab" ("I know! Let's take BAR BETS and put them on TV!!!")

As far as the Blues, you are dead on with the call about Murray, but as usual, I differ slightly in my assessment as to "why." The team had quit on Kitchen, if for only the lack of a discernable system. (Let's face it: Playing dump-and-chase with the "speed" this team routinely exhibits is pretty much (fill in your favorite suicide metaphor )). So Murray looks like a genius for instituting a forechecking style much-better-suited for this personnel (found under "DUH" in the playbook), and will look even smarter when (if?) they finally get that goalie.

Don't get me wrong: Murray was absolutely the best guy for this job (assuming the team is going to get younger, which is what I think they are doing...if they were going to hang onto the older guys, then they shoulda gone both barrels after Hitch. But again I digress). But he's the best guy for this job NEXT YEAR. Whatever they get out of the time he's spending implementing his methods in 2006-07, is gravy. So playoffs? Who cares...

Meanwhile, in Buffalo (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk)...

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