ST. LOUIS -- With perhaps only one game left in the season, I have just one question:
Are these really the best teams in baseball? Because it certainly doesn't seem like it.
Teams aren't winning games in this World Series so much as losing them. Game 4 Thursday night was easily the most interesting of the series (and the only one in which the lead changed hands after the third inning), but even then, the play was pretty shabby. At least by the Tigers.
Detroit stranded nine runners and lost the lead in the seventh inning when center fielder Curtis Granderson fell on soggy ground going after a catchable fly ball and reliever Fernando Rodney threw a sacrifice bunt into the right-field corner. St. Louis closer Adam Wainwright immediately blew that lead by giving up a game-tying double to the first batter he faced. The Tigers, however, gave the lead right back after Joel Zumaya (who may not be fully recovered from his sore wrist) walked the leadoff batter on four pitches and let him move into scoring position for the game-winning run on a wild pitch.
"It's maybe a little bit frustrating," Tigers first baseman Sean Casey said. "I think if you ask every guy in here, he would say we should have had that game, but we didn't get it done."
Detroit, which made 106 errors in the regular season, has already made six in four World Series games. Third baseman Brandon Inge made two errors on one play in Game 1 and probably could have been charged with three (where have you gone Graig Nettles, our nation turns its bloodshot eyes to you). The Tigers' pitchers alone have made four errors, directly leading to six runs, or more runs than Detroit scored in Games 1, 2 and 3 combined. "We're definitely taking some extra ground balls next spring training," said closer Todd Jones, who almost threw away Detroit's one victory in Game 2.
This just continues a trend we've seen throughout the postseason. The Twins were favored to win their division series against Oakland but got swept when Minnesota made three errors, went 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position and saw Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter turn a sinking line drive into a game-killing, inside-the-park home run with a foolish diving attempt.
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And we won't even bring up the Yankees.
Now here are the Tigers playing just as shabbily as the teams they routed the first two rounds.
Part of the poor play is due to the cold, wet weather conditions (Granderson fell down because the rain-softened ground gave way on him). But part of it is also that these two teams haven't been playing very well over the past couple months. Even counting the postseason, each has a losing record since the end of July, including a pair of embarrassing finishes. The Cardinals won only 83 games overall -- the second-lowest total ever by a World Series team.
Albert Pujols is a great player; and Chris Carpenter, who pitched a gem in Game 3, is a Cy Young winner. Scott Rolen is an excellent third baseman and Carlos Guillen is a pretty good shortstop. But when I look at the rest of the rosters, I get the same feeling as when I look at the Mariners' roster.
Hell, Scott Spiezio was one of the worst players in Mariners history his two seasons in Seattle, yet he was one of the Cardinals' key players during the NLCS. The Cardinals batted Ron Belliard fifth in Game 3. Jeff Weaver, whose ERA was 6.29 this season with the Angels and 5.18 since joining St. Louis, has been one the postseason's most effective starters. The Tigers, meanwhile, have been batting Placido Polanco, a guy with four home runs during the regular season, in the third spot much of October.
This criticism is not East Coast bias. For one thing, I live on the West Coast, and I lived in the Midwest for a decade. I'm also much happier to see two traditional Midwest teams here instead of another New York series. This is also a rematch of the first World Series I really followed as a kid. I listened to the 1968 Cardinals-Tigers on a transistor radio at recess, watched it at home on the weekend, and painted the Cardinals' logo on my T-shirt (though it looked more like I had spilled a plate of spaghetti on it). It's when I first really became a baseball fan.
It doesn't matter to me whether the Cardinals or the Tigers eventually win, but I would like to see Detroit win Game 5 to make things interesting. I want a good series. I want a game that thrills because of the plays being made instead of the plays not being made. I want to see games that make me feel I'm seeing the absolute best teams of 2006 instead of teams the Pirates and Royals could handle.
Mostly, I just want there to be a more compelling story than whether some guy had pine tar on his hand.