Here we go again. Last year, it took a miraculous comeback by the St Louis Cardinals, along with an epic collapse by the Atlanta Braves, to give the Wild Card Redbirds a shot at postseason glory. Of course, they capitalized on that opportunity; winning the franchise's eleventh World Championship in a classic seven game showdown with the shell-shocked Texas Rangers.
This year, the Cardinals were the National League's beneficiaries of the new Wild Card format, which allows an extra team from each league into the postseason mix. Ironically, the team they square off against on Friday are those same Atlanta Braves, in a one-game winner-moves-on-loser-goes-home showdown in Atlanta. To say the odds are stacked against the Cardinals is an understatement. Here's why:
The Cardinals are the only team in the postseason with a losing record on the road.
Pitching for the Atlanta Braves will be Kris Medlen who recently established a new major league record when the Braves won for the twenty-third consecutive time in a game started by Medlen. The previous record of 22 straight wins by a team was shared by Whitey Ford (New York Yankees) and Carl Hubbell (New York Giants).
Pitching for St Louis will be Kyle Lohse, who pitched well during the regular season, but has never pitched well in postseason play.
The Cardinals lost five of six games vs the Braves in 2012.
Sentimental Braves' favorite Chipper Jones is retiring at the conclusion of this season. This will surely have the fans riled up; not to mention his teammates.
As if that weren't enough, approximately 45,000 giant red tomahawks are being doled out to the Atlanta faithful to be used at the appropriate tomahawk chopping time during the game. That can be quite a distraction; really, for both teams. What happens if that stupid stunt backfires and the Redbirds start tomahawking balls out of Turner Field instead? Can you imagine seeing 45,000 tomahawks strewn over the entire playing field by disgruntled fans when the score is 12 - 2 in the bottom of the eighth-inning; and those twelve runs don't belong to the Bravos? Yikes!
It should be quite an interesting game, to say the least. Whether it's the only postseason game in the Cards for St Louis remains to be seen. Certainly, the Cardinals are a resilient bunch. They seem to thrive on adversity; many fans in other cities (particularly Cincinnati and Milwaukee) absolutely despise them, for reasons that I don't quite understand. Maybe it has something to do with their success; after all, they're the defending World Champions (for the eleventh time).
Yet here they are, having the audacity to return to the postseason when they should be fat and happy, resting on their laurels. Not this time; in their entire history, the Cardinals had only returned to the postseason on two other occasions after winning a World Series the previous season (1943 and 1968). They've never won back-to-back World Championships. Very few experts are giving them much of a chance to do it again this year; especially as a lowly Wild Card team playing the elimination game on the road against a team that never loses when their good luck charm is on the mound.
Stranger things have happened. I wonder how many experts picked the Oakland Athletics to dethrone the once mighty-now-shell-shocked Texas Rangers to win the AL West; on the last day of the season, no less? How many experts picked the Baltimore Orioles to make it to the postseason as well; nearly dethroning the mighty New York Yankees from their top spot in the AL East?
Yes, the Wild Cards are facing long odds again; I just wouldn't bet against them.