One thing the WWE has taught us is that to increase the level of emotions for a major battle, a heel is needed.
In the case of the Cardinals-Dodgers post-season series the last two years, Los Angeles outfielder Yasiel Puig could be that heel – from St. Louis’ perspective.
Hit by an Adam Wainwright offering in the first inning of Game 1 of the 2014 Division Series, Puig’s animated protests led to the benches clearing, though no punches were thrown. The Cuban native could not back it up on the field, as his below-par .250 NLDS performance included seven consecutive strikeouts at one point and a benching for the elimination Game 4.
Though Puig has taken a lot of heat for immaturity shown during his first two eventful seasons in the Majors, the 24-year-old may be growing up a bit.
At a Friday luncheon in Los Angeles to benefit the Wounded Warriors Project, Puig spoke of how a 10-year-old Cardinals fan friend will not let him forget which team eliminated the other in each of the last two Octobers.
Puig went as far as to label the Cardinals his club’s primary adversary, not the World Champion Giants from San Francisco.
“The principal rivals are the Cardinals,” Puig told reporters. “It’s not San Francisco.”
Though that comment will surely install Puig as the new Giants’ heel, let’s consider the facts. Yes, the Giants have won two of the last three World Series, but they got there without having to face their West Division rival in the post-season.
During the last three regular seasons, the Dodgers have two division titles and one second-place finish, winning 272 games. The Giants won the division three years ago, but finished third and second the last two years while logging 258 wins.
In head-to-head action, the Giants actually hold a 30-26 edge over the 2012-14 period, but it is the October failures that are most stuck in Puig’s craw.
The two times San Francisco reached October play in the last three years, they did not lose a series. Each time, they eliminated St. Louis along the way. Yet, no Cardinals have named the Giants as their primary nemesis.
Baseball’s most decorated pitcher in recent years, Clayton Kershaw, gave his own nod of recognition to the Cardinals this past week.
Despite taking home the 2014 National League Most Valuable Player Award, winning three Cy Young Awards in the last four years, and an unprecedented four-consecutive NL ERA titles, Kershaw has not led his Dodgers to a World Series.
One major roadblock is clear. Kershaw has yet to defeat St. Louis in five career post-season starts against them. In the 2014 NLDS, the 26-year-old lefty took losses in the opener and deciding Game 4 while posting a 7.82 ERA.
Closing his acceptance speech for the MVP and Cy Young Awards last weekend at the Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner in New York City, Kershaw showed humility.
“My last thank you goes to the St. Louis Cardinals,” Kershaw said. “Thank you for reminding me that you’re never as good as you think you are.”
While I don’t see the Dodgers as the Cardinals’ primary rival, I have to admit that I would certainly again enjoy another post-season matchup between the two in 2015. It seems at least two of Los Angeles’ stars are hoping for that opportunity to redeem themselves.
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