Jordan Bohinc currently holds a position in the front office of a major sports franchise and is a founder and executive producer of the VODcast, The Front Office (@TheFOCast).
As you all know by now, the Redbirds have done in the World Series dreams of Los Angeles once again. Once seen as the under-appreciated team in the Midwest that was hard to root against, the Cardinals are starting to garner a hatred usually reserved for the likes of teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. However, the big difference is that the Cards aren’t doing it with big payrolls and star-studded rosters. In fact, the Cards payroll in 2014 was ‘only’ $111 million, over $100 million less than the Los Angeles Dodgers they just beat in the NLDS, and the Cardinals have only been in the top 10 payrolls in the MLB only once since 2010.
What you don’t know about the Cards is that, after clinching a spot in the NLCS for the fourth consecutive season, they are going to win it all. This win will give them their third championship since 2006, and would mean they have appeared in exactly half of the World Series since 2004. Here’s why…
An idiom often used across just about every major sport when it comes to analyzing post season success is simply: ‘They got hot at the right time’. You hear it everywhere, including for this same Cardinals team during both of their recent World Series runs. Integral to a team’s momentum and heat, is their confidence, and right now, the Cardinals have it in spades and it’s all thanks to Matt Carpenter.
Carpenter, the teams every day second baseman last year, who transitioned over to third base this off season to make way for the long-lauded prospect, Kolten Wong, has been on an absolute tear this post-season, hitting at a .375 clip with every hit being either a double (3) or home run (3), a ridiculous 1.537 OBP, and 7 RBI to boot. To put that in perspective, Carpenter hit 8 HRs and drove in 59 RBI this season, only missing 4 games for the Redbirds. Is the Jay Baruchel look-alike capable of carrying his team for the rest of the post-season? No. But what he’s done is even more important.
In game one of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium, Clayton Kershaw was cruising through the Cardinal lineup, surrendering only a solo home run in the 1st inning before not allowing a single hit until the 6th inning, when Matt Carpenter drove a pitch into the right centerfield bleachers, making the score 6-2. The next batter popped out, ending the inning. In their next at bat, the heart of the Cards’ order raked 4 straight singles up the middle to load the bases with nobody out. Kershaw struck out the next batter. Then, another single, followed by another strikeout, lead to Carpenter’s second at bat in as many innings. This time, the bases were loaded with two out, and the score 6-4; Dodgers. Carpenter battled for the first 7 pitches of the at bat, before launching another ball into the right-center gap for a bases clearing double, and all of a sudden, after being down 6-1 in the 6th, to the best pitcher in baseball (maybe ever; only time will tell), the Cardinals were on top 7-6.
Why is this moment so important you ask? Because even though we see the same name on the front of the jersey, a name positioned to convey excellence, the names on the back surely are not. This Cardinal offense is young, full of talent, but devoid of any big names like Albert Pujols or Carlos Beltran that carried them in seasons past. Instead, this is a team whose regular season HR leader was a 32 year old cast-off shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who led the team with 21 HRs. What Carpenter did, is show that young talent that you don’t have to qualify yourself with 30 HR in the regular season to hit one now, and furthermore, that even he, a guy who didn’t reach double-digits in HRs, can do it off the best pitcher in the game.
What happened next only serves to further that idea. After losing a close game two on the road, the Cards won game three of the series on a late home run by the very same rookie, Kolten Wong, who replaced Matt at second base and had struggled all season finding his confidence at the plate. Then, in what would become the elimination game for the Dodgers, Matt Adams, a 26 year old with barely over a year of MLB service, crushed a three run homerun off Kershaw’s best pitch, his curveball, to win the game for the Cards. That homerun by the way, was the first Kershaw has ever given up to a lefty off his curveball in his career, which began way back in 2008.
I encourage you to go back and watch those two home runs. Watch Matt Adams and Kolten Wong as they left the batter’s box and rounded first, watch Jay Baruchel’s reaction in the dugout, and you will realize that this team believes it can go all the way. For maybe the first time this year, the Cards offense has found some swagger, and the timing couldn’t be better. Backed by a rotation anchored by the 2nd best pitcher in the game, Adam Wainwright, a revitalized John Lackey, a healthy Shelby Miller, and quiet-but-steady Lance Lynn, as well as one of the best closers and bullpens in baseball, this team is destined for another World Championship.
This brings me to Kershaw and why he should win the MVP. First off, post season success should have absolutely no bearing on a regular season award, but, being in the media-driven society we are, and with those talking heads of the media needing to analyze something (and not to mention they vote on these awards) people are beginning to say that Kershaw doesn’t deserve an MVP after going 0-2 in the post-season.
But wait, doesn’t MVP mean ‘Most Valuable Player’? As in, ‘if we lost this guy we’d surely be screwed’? That’s what I thought it meant, but history has shown that isn’t always the case. Look no further than the fact that no pitcher has won the NL MVP since 1968 for your proof how offensive the meaning of this award has become. Some perspective: a pitcher that won multiple Cy Youngs and yet did not to win an NL MVP award during his tenure: Randy Johnson (went 24-5 with 334 Ks in 2002 and 21-6 with 372 Ks in 2001). Refresher course: in 2001, the Diamondbacks won the World Series. The only time the Diamondbacks have won a World Series. How does that not get you an MVP?!?! Oh wait, that’s right, Barry Bonds, a known PED user won it instead because he hit 73 HRs that year. Looking back on it, how did we think that was legitimate? But I digress…back to Kershaw.
My point is this, the Dodgers knew how much they needed Kershaw to win this thing. They needed him to get that last out in the 7th inning of game one. Why? Because the bullpen didn’t have a single ‘shut down’ arm and had been unreliable all season. Don Mattingly knew that Kershaw, despite giving up 5 hits prior to facing Carpenter, still had the best chance of getting him out. Then, on the brink of elimination, they knew they needed Kershaw to come in and pitch on short rest to give them a chance, and he did just that: he gave them a chance. Point is this, for the Dodgers to go anywhere this post-season, Kershaw needed to give them 8 strong innings, because they didn’t have anyone that could hold onto a lead for them. No other pitcher in baseball would be asked to do that; especially in the playoffs.
Furthermore, the Dodgers wouldn’t even be in the playoffs if it weren’t for Kershaw. In fact, in the 26 starts that Kershaw has made for the Dodgers since his return from injury in early May, the Dodgers have lost four of them. They’ve lost one of Kershaw’s starts since the beginning of June. The one loss was a 2-3 loss at the hands of then-hot Milwaukee, and Kershaw pitched a complete game with 11 strikeouts to top it off. So three games. The Dodgers lost three games this year when Clayton started on the mound, and they won the other 23. Throw in the fact that Kershaw missed five or so starts to injury, had a sub 2.0 ERA for the second season in a row, AND won the ERA title for the fourth straight season, and it becomes pretty clear that he had one of the best seasons for any player in the league. If that doesn’t scream ‘Most Valuable Player’, I don’t know what does.
Finally, who else is there? In a season where only seven players in the NL finished with over a .300 average, only three hit more than 30 HRs, and only three drove in more than 100 runs, only one person appeared on those lists more than once: Giancarlo Stanton, who finished with 37 HR and 105 RBI. The big difference? Stanton’s team finished eight games under .500, not even sniffing the playoffs, and Kershaw lead his team to a division title. The answer is clear: there is no one more deserving of the NL MVP than Clayton Kershaw.