ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- The best piece of advice I ever received was three words: Deal in reality. Ran out of money and can’t pay a bill? It doesn’t matter what circumstances led to it or how unfair it is, you need to find some cash. Didn’t get the job you want? No one cares that you deserved it or you worked harder, you’re still unemployed. Time to fill out another application.
Cardinal fans could do well to heed this advice.
It’s October 24, 2016, and tomorrow night the Cubs will play Game 1 of the World Series. Enough talk about goats and Steve Bartman. Enough jokes about the Ottoman Empire and enough pointing to the 11 titles for St. Louis in an attempt to diminish what Chicago is accomplishing this season. The reality is the Cubs are, in no uncertain terms, the best team in the National League and belong in the World Series. They’ll likely win it, and that is a perfectly acceptable and justifiable outcome.
Beyond these next few games, a more significant reality must be addressed. The Cubs are the class of the National League Central, and there’s no reason to believe the status quo is primed for a change. They have a dominant rotation, a quality bullpen and an offense that (discounting Jason Heyward) can be rearranged to fit any situation and still be frighteningly effective.
This season wasn’t an aberration, it’s reality. The Cardinals are closer to third in the division than they are to first, and it’s not hard to see why.
The Cubs had 107 runs saved on defense this season according to Bill James Online. That’s the best mark in baseball by 26 runs. The Cardinals mark was three, a difference of 104 runs. The Cubs only scored 29 more runs on the season than St. Louis, but had a run differential of +252. The Cardinals sat at +67. Run creation is still king in modern baseball, but defense matters.
As does the management of resources.
Remember that glaring base running stat for the Cardinals this year? 47 outs on runners trying to take the extra base? They weren’t the worst in that category. In fact, they had the eighth most. The Cubs actually had two more outs caused by trying to stretch another bag out of a hit. But take a look at the personnel.
Even casual observers know the Cardinals are short on speed. Their fastest two players are Kolten Wong and Jeremy Hazelbaker, both of whom spent the year in support roles. St. Louis attempted 61 steals and were caught 26 times.
They didn’t have anyone with more than seven steals and only four players with five or more. Two of those four were Wong (7) and Hazelbaker (5). The Cubs had 66 successful steal attempts in 100 tries. They had three players with double-digit steals and six players with at least five swipes.
That is to say they SHOULD be leveraging their speed and trying to stretch singles into doubles, doubles into triples. Forcing conflict is advantageous for a team with above average speed and an elite ability to prevent runs. Having the NL’s best on-base percentage doesn’t hurt either; base runners aren’t a rare treasure.
But when your everyday lineup is carrying pianos on their backs and your run prevention is among the worst in the league (along with a team OBP of .325), insisting on jeopardizing your baserunners is foolish.
The Cubs can take those risks and have found success because they built their team to do so; they aren’t attempting to force a slow-footed square peg into a round hole.
As an aside, it’s also time for Cardinal fans to stop pounding the table about HOW the Cubs built that roster. “Tanking” is said with such stank that you’d think the FCC would bleep it out on television. The Cubs had a collection of depreciating assets that were overpaid. They got rid of them in exchange for appreciating assets under greater cost control. This was done at the expense of an immediate on-field product, with the ultimate goal of creating a stable franchise that could annually compete. That’s what was promised; the fastest route back to sustained competitiveness. It was delivered.
And ultimately, it is the reality. The how doesn’t really matter.
Whether it’s pitching, defense, offense, raw talent or tactics, the Cubs now outclass their longtime rivals. By any measure, the Cardinals have miles to go before the division title is a real race again. Their best defensive player spent most of the season in playing-time purgatory. Their best hitter doesn’t really have a position. They’re absent a defensive center fielder and their rotation is currently frontlined by Carlos Martinez and rookie Alex Reyes, with a lot of question marks behind them. They can crush dingers but leave more than six runners on base per game (6.87, ranked 22nd) and more than three runners in scoring position per game (3.27, ranked 11th).
This isn’t meant to kick a downed man or roll around in the mud. It’s reality. The Cubs are a tremendous team, and dismissing or denying their dominance will only prolong the pain.
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