Everybody knows who deserves to win the World Series. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Twins insist on playing, too.
In October, it's not always enough to be the better baseball team, as the Detroit Tigers found out. Sometimes you have to be luckier, hotter, healthier. If it's your week, it could be your year, even if you don't entirely deserve it.
The St. Louis Cardinals certainly have that against 'em. They haven't been lucky all season, they've been cooled off for months and they've been feelin' mighty poorly lately. Can you believe Terry Pendleton and Jack Clark on top of everything else? Just as bad, the Cardinals don't know who they'll be playing yet. Will it be the Minnesota Twinkies, who won the AL West while being outscored for the year? Or the Minnesota Wins, who left the Tigers deader than a Bork?
If the 85-77 Twins were to show up against the 95-67 Cardinals, you'd take St. Louis in five, with one win for Frank Viola. However, if the Twins of last week continue their "Damn Yankees" imitation -- and given that Clark is out and Pendleton may be -- you'd take Minny in six and be sure to set the VCR timer, because you'd certainly want to show these tapes to the grandkids.
However, neither of these pat scenarios is in the cards. Something betwixt and between should develop. Two factors seem central. First, the Cardinals are a significantly better team. Second, the three main barroom blarney factors favor the Twins -- i.e., home field advantage, Cardinals injuries and the fact that the Twins prefer to face lefties and St. Louis has five of them. But this triple dose of apparent "Twin Destiny" may, in the long run, actually help the Cardinals. It removes the overdog burden that hamstrung them so badly in 1985 against the Kansas City Royals and fuels their motivation.
The Cardinals, taking their cue from Manager Whitey Herzog, love to play paranoid -- thinking that they're not appreciated or respected or understood. They really are a "Show Me" team that loves to beat media darlings.
First, what's all this about home field advantage? The feeling here is that the Cardinals really have it. The Twins will only play more games at home if the Series goes seven games. Only 31 of 84 World Series have gone the full distance. At the moment, conventional wisdom says the Cardinals will have more trouble adjusting to the Metrodome than the Twins will to Busch Stadium. Well, that's backward.
Here's why. Few American League teams like artificial turf, so the Twins have a home edge. However, the Cardinals love it. In fact, they're infinitely more a speed club than the Twins; so who has the wheels to take more advantage of Hump hops? Also, the Cardinals may be the best defensive team in history -- it's their trademark. Is a team with such pride in its leather going to be beaten by a baggie fence and a dome ceiling? The Candy Maldonados of the world lose balls in the lights because they are one-dimensional. Are we sure Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith need to see fly balls to catch them? They've played like they had radar their whole lives.
Sure, the Homerdome suits the Twins' power. But won't huge Busch Stadium thwart their long fly balls just as it did those of the Giants? Don't forget, San Francisco, playing in a league with no designated hitter, scored as many runs as the Twins this season and had 11 more homers. The Giants managed all of 23 runs in seven games off the Cardinals.
Dead flat prediction: the Cardinals, with an extra bat in the lineup, will adapt better to the Dome than the Twins will to Busch, especially when they lose their designated hitter. The Cardinals were the best away team in baseball in '87 (46-35); the Twins are the worst road warriors (29-52) ever to win anything.
The notion that Twins power will frighten Cardinals pitchers is dubious. The Twins hit their homers in a small park in a small-park league. The Giants hit theirs in a big-park league and in a home park where, when the wind blows in, homers are almost impossible. Yes, the Twins have punch. But the Giants hit nine homers off St. Louis and where did it get them?
The Twins, on the other hand, are almost the worst team in baseball at throwing out base stealers and they have never seen a team that runs like the Cardinals. Minnesota may wish it could rent Roger Craig to call pitchouts.
Two factors are of enormous help to the Twins -- off days and those Cardinals injuries. If Pendleton can be the DH in Minnesota, it would help mightily. More vital is the old postseason truism that teams with lousy pitching depth get an enormous break in October. Only by the grace of travel days can a team that's had Les Straker, Undecided and To Be Named in its starting rotation all year beat the Tigers and have a fighting chance to whip the Cardinals.
If the Twins can hold their trance and the Cardinals get fixated on all their injuries, then, this time a week, Tom Kelly could be a dark horse in New Hampshire.
But that's not what's going to happen. As the Giants can testify, the Cardinals have three hot pitchers in John Tudor, Danny Cox and Todd Worrell. Pitchers are streaky and the Twins are not going to like what they see. Also, Joe Magrane has a free shot at Viola in Game 1 -- a Twins must-game right off the bat. If the enormously talented Magrane beats the jitters and wins, the Cardinals could romp and stomp.
Let's ask ourselves what the Cardinals, in their current condition, would want most of all as a World Series present. With their lineup depleted and their need for runs desperate, they'd dream of facing the worst pitching team in the history of postseason play. Well, that's the Twins (4.63 ERA). And the Cardinals would fantasize about playing every game on artificial turf against catchers who can't throw out anybody. Suddenly, Tommy Herr, McGee and Curt Ford could join Vince Coleman and Smith on the merry-go-round. Last, they'd want their pitching aces to be on a roll against a team that's a false favorite.
A team as thoroughly mediocre as these Twins winning the World Series would be silly and fun. But it's already happened. In 1985. These Cardinals will not be guilty of making world champions of the two weakest Series winners in history.
St. Louis in six.