Birds of a feather flock—well, in completely different ways, sometimes.
On one hand, you have a metric juggernaut that, on paper and in computer simulations, should win the National League Central 99 times out of 100, yet the Cardinals find themselves in second place to the confident Cincinnati Reds.
Despite having grasp of the second wild-card berth, there is almost no way the Cardinals end the season without giving the impression they were capable of more. A lot more.
Like 100-wins-and-an-NL-Central-title more.
Ah, the pressure of high expectations that comes with a newly minted World Series trophy coupled with the highest run-differential in baseball (plus-126).
Laid-back veterans like Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran seem to fail in high-leverage situations more often than one would expect.
Young veterans like Allen Craig and David Freese are both just trying to complete their first full seasons as starters in the everyday lineup.
One wonders if rookie Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is trying a bit too hard to hide a deer-in-the-headlights stare.
The Cards seem to lack a certain fire, that special chemistry.
In old-school terms, they've choked, both on offense and in the bullpen, on a regular basis, leading to a terrible 13-21 record in one-run contests.
On the opposite end of the guts spectrum, we find the Baltimore Orioles, forever doomed to toil in the American League East with annual contenders like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, with even the Toronto Blue Jays showing glimpses of breaking through to relevancy.
Yet the Orioles sport a record nearly as good as that of the Cardinals.
When it comes to tight contests, the O's are the bizarro version of the Cardinals—with clutch hitting and an airtight bullpen, they have dominated one-run contests to the tune of 23 wins against just six losses.
Baltimore is actually a young, talented team. The Orioles sport no fewer than seven players with 12 home runs or more, highlighted by outfielder Adam "Don't-Call-Me-Pacman" Jones, with 24. Ex-Ranger Chris Davis did his best Adrian Beltre impersonation last night, booming three big flies to jack his total to 23 on the year.
The Orioles bullpen (again, in contrast to the Cards) has been nothing short of stellar. Closer Jim Johnson has saved 39-of-42 opportunities while allowing the opposition a paltry .209 batting mark. Pedro Strop, Luis Ayala, Darren O'Day and Troy Patton all sport ERAs below 2.90.
In blowouts, however, the Orioles are faring poorly (16-21) while the Cards apparently love it when things get out of hand (26-11).
With a run differential of minus-52, the O's truly have little room for error. Their modus operandi has been to score just enough to give a good rotation room to work with and then hand the contest over to their shutdown bullpen.
The Cardinals and their NL-leading offense have had to out-slug their opponents on many nights in order to give a suspect bullpen plenty of slack.
It's pretty obvious that if the Cardinals had the Orioles' heart (and bullpen) or the O's had the Cards' explosive offense and veteran rotation, such a team would win 130 games.
But why fantasize?
How about an Orioles-Cardinals World Series in October?
How bizarre would that be?