The Brewers and Cardinals have only had one day off following their respective NLDS Game 5 victories, but the soundbites provided (and often presented out of context) on Saturday has made the wait unbearable. The two teams will start another round in what should be a back-and-forth fight this afternoon.
To get ready for the series, Daniel Shoptaw of Cardinals C70 At The Bat asked me a few questions, and you can see my answers on his blog. He was nice enough to answer a few questions of my own, which are after the jump. It should be noted this swap happened before Chris Carpenter had to explain being called a phony to his son.
1. Considering how the team looked at times this year, be honest — are you surprised the Cardinals are in the NLCS?
After they got into October? No, because I thought that they would be able to make a run after they got in. I definitely didn’t expect them to get there, though. When they were 10.5 back with just 30+ to play, it seemed pretty impossible, but they bucked up, played the best baseball they played all year, and here we are. This team as it is playing now is barely recognizable from the team that went through July and August in such a funk.
2. Right now, it looks like the Brewers’ first three starters of the series will be Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Yovani Gallardo. How do you think the Cards stack up against the Brewers’ starting rotation?
Gallardo always concerns me. He tried for a no-hitter against the Cards earlier this year and always seems to shut the Redbirds down with relative ease. If this series goes 7, Carpenter vs. Gallardo in the finale could be as epic as Carpenter vs. Halladay was in the NLDS.
Greinke and Marcum will be tough as well, but the Cards have been able to hit them at times this season. Then again, they’ve also been shut down by them at times. I think the Cards can beat them, but whether they will or not, that’s a different story.
3. The bullpen has seemed to be a problem for the Cards at times this year. Are there any worries about it faltering again with so much on the line?
Once Ryan Franklin and Miguel Batista were jettisoned, the Rasmus deal was made adding Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel, plus Edwin Jackson allowing Kyle McClellan to move into the pen, and the young guns given pretty free rein, the bullpen moved from a major concern to, if not a strength, at least not a weakness. There’s always the concern that the pen will flare up, but it’s more in line with what most fans of any team feel rather than a specific worry.
4. It’s pretty clear that these two teams don’t like each other, and it’s starting to spill over into the fanbases. If you could, try to explain things from the St. Louis perspective — what’s your (the team/city, not you personally) problem with the Brewers?
Besides the fact that it seems like the Cards have problems with anyone that threatens their superiority in the division? Of course, the shirt untucking from a few years ago, no matter how well-intentioned and motivated from the Milwaukee side of things, rubbed this fanbase the wrong way. The fanbase tends to hold “respect for the game” highly and I think that came across as showboating in the face of a defeated foe. I think that planted the seed.
There may be a bit of a cultural difference as well, as the Cardinal fan base is not often a “loosey-goosey” type of group, whereas the Brewer fans (at least from a distance) seem to embrace that more. However, the team and the fans have loosened up some recently, if all the Twitter accounts about Allen Craig‘s turtle and Jason Motte‘s glove are any indication. It may be telling that the last time the Cards were this loose may have been 2006.
5. With the Brewers, we keep hearing about how this is likely the last time we see Prince Fielder as a Brewer. Is there anything like that going on with Albert Pujols? Is the fanbase worried about losing him, or is it being assumed that he’ll be back?
The Pujols saga has lingered over the whole season, but not as intensely as expected. Still, the last home game he got a 45 second standing ovation in his first at bat, in case it was his last game in Busch, and he got some rousing ovations in Game 4 of the NLDS for the same reason. I expect Game 5 of the NLCS will be the same way, even if the Cards are up 3-1 at the time.
There’s a concern that he won’t be back and I don’t think anyone is assuming that he will return. A portion of the fan base believe he’ll be back–myself among them–but there’s no one that’s taking it on faith that the 2012 team will have #5 batting third and manning first base.
6. Semi-related, but with some guys like Carpenter and Berkman getting up there in years and TLR possibly on his way out, is there a feeling that the window of opportunity for another title could be closing soon?
I don’t think so. The Cards have a good shot in 2012 with Berkman and Carpenter returning, and after that year they still have Wainwright and Garcia to hold down the rotation. By then, top prospect Shelby Miller should be ready to be the third young gun in the mix, with Carlos Martinez not far behind. The rotation looks well, the bullpen arms are young (and there are some more coming, I think), which frees the Cards to either develop players like Allen Craig or use some payroll to obtain fillers. Even if Pujols walks, I think this team is going to be OK for a while. If he returns, the next 4-5 years could be really bright for Cardinal Nation.