For the next 50-odd hours, you're going to see a lot of media press coverage about the Los Angeles Dodgers - St. Louis Cardinals NLDS matchup. And the coverage will go something like this:
- St. Louis will win the NLDS, just as they won five of seven games against us this season;
- St. Louis has better pitching, thanks to the 1-2 punch of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright; meanwhile, the Dodgers' starting pitching is a mess and the bullpen is fickle;
- The Dodgers' bats are nowhere as strong as the inhuman strength of Albert Pujols, the finest active baseball player to not be mentioned in any steroid allegations to date;
- The Dodgers' league-leading record is a farce and shouldn't be a factor.
The Dodgers' 2009 head-to-head record of 2-5 is a understandably concerning bellweather (although three of those games were 3-2 losses). And the star wattage of the three named Cardinal players is so brilliant, that one can easily be blinded to the facts that we've got a better team batting average (.270 (1st in the NL) to .263 (5th)), a better OBP (.346 (1st) to .332 (9th)), a better OPS (.758 (4th) to .747 (6th)), a better batting average against (.233 (1st) to .258 (7th)), a better ERA (3.41 (1st) to 3.67 (4th)), a better WHIP (1.26 (1st) to 1.29 (3rd)), and a better K/9 ratio (7.77 (3rd) to 6.55 (13th)).
But at core, you know what this matchup is all about.
St. Louis is the city of good hometown-cooking, great American values, and fine, solid, people who happen to be the best baseball fans on earth. And the press will pick this story up according to type. You know exactly what I'm talking about: a city and team "as steeped in tradition and respect for the game as no place else, [...] a small market able to get three-million-plus people out to the stadium and compete against richer teams in the league for over a century. Home to "the best fans in baseball," Cardinals All-Star first baseman Albert Pujols says. "As long as you play the game the right way, it doesn't matter what you're hitting, the fans are going to support you." Never mind the not-too-distant memory of Cardinal slugger Mark McGwire, and his own nation-captivating, now-that-it's-history-I'm-not-here-to-talk-about-the-past, steroid-filled hunt for 62 HRs. Just look at the dreadlocked cheater over on the other team!
"There's something that's instilled in you as a young person in St. Louis that you respect the game and you respect the opposition," says [Fox Sports' Joe] Buck. Unlike the other 27 major league baseball cities (not double-counting New York City or Chicago, but distinguishing Los Angeles from Anaheim), about whom it is implied must disrespect the game and their opposition at every turn.
Heck, even the Cardinals' optional workouts today got perfect attendance. Yep, this is how baseball should be; the only things missing are Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, that guy with the funny hat and the deep voice who says "this is CNN", and the cornfield. And America will be behind the Cardinals, as the unintuitively-shaded ESPN.com poll shows:
And then, there's the Dodgers, affectionately named by a local columnist as the Choking Dogs. No one in the press, let alone the entire country, wants to see the Dodgers win. Our team represents fans who leave early, and is led by an offensive star who is a no-good cheat (again, see: McGwire). Because the rest of our sluggers (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Casey Blake, and James Loney are the only other hitters with double-digit Dodger home runs, besides the dreadlocked one) fly under the radar and are relatively unknown commodities, everyone else wil default to the storyline of the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, and use this as the theme for why the Dodgers are toothless.
And though both teams limped down the stretch of the regular season, it is the Dodgers' offense which "has struggled mightily" (no hope for a turnaround), while the fact that the Cardinals' offense was equally impotent down the stretch is no "big deal about momentum entering the playoffs. [...] Any team with Pujols and Matt Holliday in the middle of the order is going to be formidable." Double standard, perhaps?
In the mainstream media's mind, this is a fight between all that is baseball good and all that is evil, tradition versus superficiality, substance versus style. Just like the nation abhors the Lakers' glamour and accomplishments and roots against them with fervor, the Dodgers' recent successes this year and last makes everyone else hate us even more.
The Cardinals are goodness and the smell of home-cooked chocolate chip cookies and upstanding midwestern work ethics and helping little old ladies cross the street and My Little Pony and rainbows and people dotting their lowercase i's with hearts. The Dodgers are ephemerality and novelty and shallowness and cockiness and conceit and cocaine binges and unkempt facial hair and the ogre who lives under the bridge and Yuck Mouth* and not using your turn signals and men you don't want your daughters to date.
Style cannot win out over substance. Superficiality has no place in a tradition as grand and hallowed as baseball. Evil cannot prevail.
And so, everyone will be against us throughout this NLDS series. And that will give Chris Carpenter's fastball a little more zip when he takes the mound in Chavez Ravine in Game 1. And that will cause the Dodgers to be a little bit more tight when they step up to bat in the bottom of the first. And that will cause Dodger fans to hold their hearts a little bit higher in their throats as the first game begins.
But all it takes is one swing to quiet a crowd of doubters, to quell a nation of people rooting against us and loudly, bombastically, hoping that we fail.
Let's go, Dodgers!
Note: The Yuck Mouth PSA actually has a baseball reference in it, so it's doubly-relevant.