Top 5 Most Intriguing Champions League Group Stage Matches

Dortmund vs. Real, anyone? No? How about Bayern Munich-Atletico Madrid? Barcelona-Man City?

The annual contesting of the UEFA Champions League is always something to look forward to on the football calendar, and after some lackluster – and, frankly, unnecessary – play in games, the group stage is all set. The 8 pools were set up today, and there are some seriously good fixtures on the slate.

Now, I just want to point something out really quickly. How weird is it to not see Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Wolfsburg in the Champions League draw? It’s pretty weird for me. Anyway, let’s get straight into the most interesting group stage matches.

Group F: Borussia Dortmund vs Real Madrid

Starting off with a bang, the reigning champions draw German powerhouse, Borussia Dortmund in an opening matchup that should be filled with enough fireworks to go around.

Real Madrid UCL
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Real need no introduction. They sport a front line that includes the best player in the world and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric – as if he needed any more of an introduction – made some noise at the European Championships with his sparkling play on the Croatian national team alongside Ivan Perisic.

Madrid’s squad last season was as deep and strong as we have ever seen, and the addition of Alvaro Morata and a presumably much stronger and reinvigorated James Rodriguez will make them just as dangerous.

On the other side are my dark horses in this tournament. Dortmund gave traditional juggernaut, Bayern Munich, all they would handle all the way through the Bundesliga season in 2015-16. And, sensing a potential changing of the guard, Dortmund went out and spent over $110 million on 8 transfers.

Highlighting the group is former Dortmund star, Mario Gotze – who was swiped away from the aforementioned Bayern Munich. Alongside Gotze is another German national, Andre Schurrle, and a couple of 19 year old prodigies, Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor. The new stable of strikers will join Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and form an incredibly formidable attack.

Borussia Dortmund Squad
Dortmund Squad. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Now, all of those glamorous transfers were mostly made out of necessity, as Dortmund lost Ilkay Gundogan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mats Hummels, but I believe the strong attack will make them an incredibly dangerous team that could potentially make huge waves with an upset here.

Also, remember the last time these two teams matched up in the Champions League with Los Blancos as a heavy favorite? Yeah, watch out for Dortmund.

Group A: Arsenal vs. Paris Saint Germain

On the surface, this matchup seems like a very even matchup between French and English powerhouses, but, unfortunately, this is probably the most predictable of the fixtures i’m going to be highlighting. Does that mean it’s not going to be entertaining? Absolutely not.

Make no mistake, this is an offensive GEM of a match. Brilliant players are all over the pitch from both sides. Theo Walcott, Angel di Maria, Granit Xhaka, Adrian Rabiot, Marco Verratti, David Luiz, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Calum Chambers; the quality on the pitch – with regards to strictly offense – is remarkable.

Now, if this match had taken place a year ago, PSG would run away with it. The French champions were firing on all cylinders with Zlatan Ibrahimovic heading up the attack, but now that he’s gone? I still favor PSG, but the Gunners do have a shot in both legs.

Both clubs will advance to the knockout round – considering that FC Basel and FC Ludogorets round out group A – and that could be the only way this matchup isn’t a spectacular scoring fest. But I’m going to pretend that both clubs go full bore and we get some lovely, high scoring football.

Group E: Bayer Leverkusen vs Tottenham Hotspur

Here’s the one you disagree with. You can’t agree with me on everything, but I really like this matchup.

Chicharito vs Alderwierld? Yes, please.

I really don’t care what you say, this game is worth watching just to see what kind of magic Chicharito pulls out of his hat against Mauricio Ponchettinho’s bunch.

Chicharito
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Also, who knows, maybe Tottenham regains the form that made them the Premier League runners up from just a season ago and put on an offensive clinic led by Harry Kane and Dele Alli.

Maybe not, but still, the offensive potential in this game is too good to ignore. All hail Chicharito.

Group D: Bayern Munich vs Atletico Madrid

Holy nuts, whoever put this matchup together clearly wants to cut the riffraff and get straight down to the business of separating the best football clubs in Europe.

A rematch of one of the two semifinals from last year’s Champions League, both teams remain mostly unchanged, with the only significant transfer between the two being Bayern’s heist of Mats Hummels from their German rivals, Borussia Dortmund.

The fact that both of these clubs remain mostly unchanged is reason for excitement because holy wow what a matchup this is.

Antoine Griezemann and Yannick Carrasco have had their coming out parties, and they join Fernando Torres on a club that has silently competed in two of the last three Champions League finals. And guess what, Atletico is set to be just as good as they’ve ever been.

Griezmann and Carrasco
Photo courtesy of ESPN FC

On the other side are the German champions and their stable of ridiculous talent. From Manuel Neuer to Robert Lewandowski, Bayern is almost stupid stacked with talent. Kingsley Coman, Renato Sanches, Arjen Robben (forget about him?), Arturo Vidal, David Alaba, Thomas Muller, Julian Green; it’s almost unfair how talented this Bayern side are.

FC Bayern Munich v FC Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League Round of 16
Photo by Lukas Barth for Getty Images

I didn’t need to hype this match up any more than it already was, but Bayern-Atletico twice in the group stage? Thank you, God.

Group C: FC Barcelona vs Manchester City

And now, your main event of the group stage.

Pep Guardiola’s main task at Manchester City has been made crystal clear: win the Champions League. He’s been given all of the money the clubs has to offer, and completely free reign to go get any player his heart desires in the name of winning the Champions League.

Following two squash matches against clearly overmatched Romanian side Steaua Bucuresti, City are through to the group stage where they draw the title favorites, Barcelona.

Nolito and Delph
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Barca return to the Champions League with a vengeance following their failed pursuit of the first back-to-back title win in UCL history. But, while Barca stood pat this summer and didn’t really get any better – in their defense, it’s hard to get better when your attacking trio is Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi – Manchester City went out and just about owned the transfer market.

In total, City brought in 9 transfers for just over $240 million, highlighted by Everton defender John Stones, Barcelona starting keeper Claudio Bravo, and Shalke wonder boy Leroy Sane. The talent on the field will be evident, and this will be an extremely tightly contested matchup, but let’s get to the off-field storylines that really make this a game worth watching.

The aforementioned Pep Guardiola has been clear that his ultimate goal at City is to win the Champions League, and to do that he has to go through his former club. The City boss made his name at Barcelona, and knocked them out of the Champions League last season while with Bayern Munich. Revenge will be in the air and Pep will be hungry to prove his side belongs in the upper echelon of elite football powerhouses.

As I mentioned in the transfers section of this blurb, Claudio Bravo is Manchester City’s new keeper, and the former Barcelona #1 will be making his homecoming during the leg of this matchup contested at the home of the Spanish champions. Also, the last time Bravo and Lionel Messi squared off, the Argentinian fired a now infamous penalty shot high over the bar of Bravo’s Chilean goal to give Chile their 2nd straight Copa America title over Argentina.

Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Argentina at Chile
Photo by Adam Hunger for USA Today Sports

So, on top of the fact that this is as good of a football matchup as you can possibly get, the extra storylines make this fixture as much of a ‘can’t miss’ as the Champions League group stage has to offer.

……….

Considering the madness that football has provided us with lately, we could be staring down the barrel of a Benfica-Leicester City Champions League final. Would you rather see something like a Bayern-City final? Of course you would, but for the first time in a while, I can’t confidently guarantee that we’ll see traditional powerhouses in the semifinals and final. Strap in, this could get wild.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Top 5 Most Intriguing Champions League Group Stage Matches

Free Randal Grichuk

Randal Grichuk, the greek god of baseball, a “Lamborghini”, a “wild stallion that just needs to run free”; the man of many nicknames, long hair and glorious forearms is stirring the pot of conversation in Cardinal-land.

He’s been hailed as the next great Cardinal center fielder, sent down to Triple-A, called back up, sent back down, called back up and been a general disappointment along the way. But, the heir to the great Colby Rasmus’ throne has caught fire recently, and he’s done it by accepting his game and playing it.

In all my years of studying baseball, I’ve made the mind-blowing discovery that you can break down every single hitter in the history of God’s greatest game into two categories. Hitters either slug, or they get on base. If you do both, you are a superstar. If you do neither, you are not collecting paychecks as a professional baseball player.

Randal Grichuk slugs, and he slugs really well.

Entering the season, Grichuk was saddled with the expectation that he would seize the Cardinals center field job by storm, maximizing his incredible raw power, stealing 20 bases, playing top notch defense, and finally mastering the art of becoming an on-base aficionado.

As exciting as the though was, our expectations of Grichuk were too high, and he crumbled underneath them. He’s admitted that he was trying to hard to modify his swing and his approach in the name of trying to get on base more, and that he “lost most of [his] power in the process.”

The Cardinals sent him down in mid-May, and then recalled him in June, only to send him back down in July and call him back up just after August started. Upon his most recent call-up, Grichuk got some words of advice from a fellow slugger, Brandon Moss.

“I wanted to show him some things on similar players that have struggled in their careers or struggled in their first couple years and then all of a sudden the power number starts to spike because the on-base started to climb. The batting average slowly climbs, sometimes goes down, but that’s okay. I’m not trying to shape him, but I’m trying to give him a better idea because I feel like that’s where he was lost. He wants stardom. He needs the patience for it, but it will come.”

Those are some powerful words, coming from a late blooming slugger like Moss, who accepted what he was, and unapologetically exploded onto the scene in Oakland during his age 29 season, in which he slugged .596, sported an insane .954 OPS, and blasted 30 home runs to drive in 87.

Moss’ career high average in a season in which he has at least 300 plate appearances is .263, which he’s tallying this year, and he’s clearly never cared about that; nor should he. Like I said, hitters either get paid to slug, or they get paid to get on base. It’s that simple, and Moss slugs as well as anyone in baseball.

And, since his latest promotion back into the Major Leagues, Grichuk is slugging at ridiculous levels as well.

Much like Moss was doing during his initial stint in the major leagues with Boston, Grichuk has been trying to be a player he is not. Drafted with the pick before Mike Trout, he has consistently tried to be a dynamic power-speed threat that plays sparkling CF defense and is the total package 5 tool player. That’s just not who he is.

When Randal Grichuk is at his best, his walk rate will sit around 6 or 7%, his strikeout rate will be somewhere around 25%, and his OBP will be in the .320’s. And this is all 100% okay, Randal Grichuk does not need to be an on-base machine, the Cardinals can pay other guys to do that.

STOP TRYING TO MAKE RANDAL GRICHUK INTO SOMETHING HE ISN’T.

What Grichuk is, however, is a man of large biceps and monstrous power, so turn him loose and watch baseballs fly.

Since his latest callus – and, presumably, his chat with Brandon Moss that has seemed to set him free – Grichuk is slugging .900, with 5 home runs and 12 out of his 13 hits have gone for extra bases. He is getting on base at a respectable .341 clip, but his K/BB ratio is 15/1. So just let him be what he is.

Grichuk is absolutely mashing the baseball since coming back, and the one stat that really jumps out at me and is indicative of his approach is added velocity. Really quick, added velocity is a stat cast number the measures the difference between incoming pitch velocity and exit velocity. The difference is either added or subtracted velocity.

Randal Grichuk has a season average of 10.52 MPH of added velocity, meaning that the balls he does square up are being absolutely smashed. He has seemed to stop worrying about trying to make contact with everything – and thus stopped chasing that pesky breaking ball away that every pitcher knows is his weakness – and has started hunting fastballs that he can do damage with. For reference, the MLB average for added velocity is 3.51 MPH.

Even more indicative of the type of player Randal Grichuk is are his numbers over the last 30 games. He’s slashing .250/.287/.615 with 8 home runs, 18 RBI’s and a K/BB ratio of 38/5. As I said, he slugs, and he slugs very well.

Let Randal Grichuk be himself, stop trying to turn him into an on base machine  while still maintaining his power, we all saw how that experiment turned out, (demotions…lots of demotions). Put him in every day CF, hit him 6th or 7th in the lineup, and turn him loose. The man will absolutely mash.

The Cardinals can pay other guys to get on base in front of Grichuk, but they just need to leave him be and let him do his thing. Balls will fly, runs will be driven in, and everyone wins.

#FreeRandalGrichuk.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Featured image courtesy of Harry How for Getty Images

Free Randal Grichuk

Ryan Riffs: The Premier League

It’s been a while since I ventured into ‘Ryan Riffs’ territory, but I’m back, and we’re venturing into even more new territory with this venture. This, I’m hoping, will be the first of many articles diving into British Premier League soccer, among other soccer. So, let’s do it.

Traditionally, the Premier League has been a hierarchy, with a certain few teams running a monopoly at the top of the table with only a brief interruption from a random club here and there. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool have been the traditional big boys in the British schoolyard. Usually, you would pick one of those teams, and 100% of the time you would be right.

Then, along came Manchester City.

Man City Title Win
Photo by Getty Images

In 2011-12, the Citizens became the first club outside the ‘Big Four’ listed above to win the Premier League title since 1994. The very same season, Tottenham broke into the top 4, and a chain of chaos was set in motion capped off by Leicester City winning the Prem this past season.

The Foxes were listed at 5000-1 in the oddsmakers book before the season, but they took those odds rode them all the way to the most improbable title run in the history of sports. Leicester City confirmed, last season, what everyone now knows; the Premier League will be absolute chaos.

Leicester City Title Win
Photo by Getty Images

Seriously, any number of 6 teams have a legitimate shot to win the title, with clubs like West Ham and Everton having an outside shot. Never before have traditionally bottom feeding clubs been able to look themselves in the mirror and say, “Hey, we actually have a shot.” It’s beautifully hectic and impossible to predict.

So, now that we’re on the same page – ha ha ha, writing puns….please love me – let’s get into my Premier League thoughts, just two weeks into the season.

……….

Manchester United are back. Following their 2012-13 title win, United have fallen down the table, eventually finishing outside of Champions League contention for the first time since 1995 – along with Chelsea, coincidentally. But, unfortunately, the empire of Old Trafford is back, and in a big way.

Last season, United were a mess of a team. Full of underachieving attackers, old, slow midfielders, a shoddy defense, and a whack-job of a manager, it’s pretty amazing that they even were able to end the season in 5th.

United has addressed all of those concerns during this offseason in astounding ways, and they are as dangerous as ever. Beginning with the signing of manager Jose Mourinho to helm the team, you could make the argument that Man U replaced the incompetent Louis Van Gall with the most brilliant manager in the world – I prefer Pep Guardiola, but that’s a different argument for a different time. And Mourinho immediately went to work hauling in droves of talent.

Mourinho’s first signing was designed to address the Red Devils’ poor 2015-16 defense, and what a signing it was. Eric Bailly has come in and immediately impressed, with some calling him “the perfect Mourinho defender.” Needless to say, Jose really likes him, and he has certainly contributed during the early part of the season.

Next up was the casual entrance of one, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And when I say casual, I mean not at all. In typical Zlatan fashion, he made a grand entrance to Old Trafford and brought all of his traditional style and flair. So far, Ibra has scored 3 Premier League goals in his first two games, as well as the winning goal in the Community Shield final. Not too shabby.

Mourinho’s cap to the summer was literally the biggest transfer of all time; Paul Pogba. The former United academy star turned Juventus star returned home to the tune of just over $118 million, breaking the world record transfer fee held by Real Madrid for Gareth Bale. Pogba returned to the club that brought him up and, in the eyes of many, catapulted Manchester United to the assumed top of the Premier League’s predicted final standings.

So, in short, United needed better defense, a creative midfielder, a proven scorer, and a capable manager. What they got was Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba – only the most creative midfielder I’ve ever seen – Zlatan freaking Ibrahimovic and Jose Mourinho. Yeah, I’d say the Red Devils are back to being the football powerhouse we all know them as.

Zlatan and Pogba
Photo courtesy of Zlatan’s Instagram, God bless that man.

So far, United has beaten Bournemouth and Southampton by a combined tally of 5-1, with their next fixture being another away game against upstarts Hull City – we’ll get into them soon.

They will presumably squash Hull and now have 3 dominant Premier League wins to open the Mourinho era. But don’t get too excited, the first major test – and boy, what a test it is – for the new look Red Devils comes in the Manchester Darby at Old Trafford on September 10th. What a clash that should be.

……….

And speaking of the early season Manchester Darby, that game is between the two clear Premier League title favorites. As wide open as I made things sound in my opening riff, the signing of Pogba to United and the impending signing of Claudio Bravo to Manchester City – combined with the new arrival of John Stones – have separated these two from the rest of the pack.

Chelsea have looked good so far, with Antonio Conte’s defensive structure making them look very hard to crack combined with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa’s early season brilliance. But Chelsea just don’t seem to have the extra gear of talent that United and City can press out onto the field on a consistent basis.

The same goes for Liverpool, who’s opening fixture with Arsenal was a brilliant offensive display that coincided with Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane announcing their arrival with authority, but their offensive arsenal – we’ll get to them in just a second – is limited, and they can’t defend for their lives. Jurgen Klopp’s bunch will be fun to watch, but don’t count on them finishing atop the table.

And Arsenal, what do we even say about them. Another silent summer of Arsene Wenger apparently forgetting that his defense is absolute trash and not making any transfers. That has resulted in a confusing 0-1-1 start, including a thrilling 4-3 loss to Liverpool that exposed every defensive fault you could ever think of, and a 0-0 draw with Tottenham that showed every offensive flaw you could ever think of.

Arsenal, as much as their seemingly star studded roster would have you believe, is not a serious title threat. In fact, they are legitimately in danger of finishing outside of a Europa League spot.

Yeah, this is a strange time in football.

Because I feel inclined to touch on the reigning runner ups, Tottenham aren’t title contenders either. As exciting as their offensive talent seemed last season – with Harry Kane’s 25 goal season and Dele Alli’s breakout – Tottenham’s lack of consistency and inexperience will doom them. The top 4 is not in their future, but they should still be a fun offensive club. When Spurs and Liverpool face off? Tune in.

All of that was basically a really long way of me undermining my entire first riff on how unpredictable the Premier League is. Manchester City and Manchester United have separated themselves as legitimate title favorites.

I talked about United at length, and City’s depth and offensive firepower are incredible. Between Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Nolito, Kelechi Iheanacho, David Silva and a suddenly remarkable Raheem Sterling, City can and will put up lots of scoring this season.

Man City Squad
Photo courtesy of BBC

The question has always been defense.

New manager Pep Guardiola’s late pre-season addition of John Stones has seemed to fix some of those questions, with Stones playing a very sturdy fullback position. And, to boot, it is expected that former Barcelona #1 Claudio Bravo will join the team on a transfer tomorrow.

If that happens, it would be a huge boost as one could argue that Bravo is the ‘sweeper keeper’ in Europe – an aspect that Guardiola relies on, and is the thing that is resulting in Joe Hart’s saddening and impending exit.

September 10th will be the first day that really gives us an idea of what the Premier League landscape will look like, with the top two title contenders facing off at Old Trafford in a power shifting matchup that will have a lot of eyes on it.

Regardless of the result of that one match, it should be a wild Prem season. Buckle up.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Ryan Riffs: The Premier League

The Cardinals are Getting Hot and That Should be Scary

 

Recently, I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine, and intern for Yahoo sports. He was telling me about how his boss is a big Cubs fan, and has been riding really high throughout this season during the Cubs monstrous run of success. However, he is “deathly afraid” of the Cardinals making the playoffs, regardless of how weak they may seem to be.

Guess what, his fears may be coming true.

Seemingly forgotten by just about everyone throughout the course of this season, the Cardinals have silently hovered around .500 and treaded water in the shadow of the Chicago Cubs empire. Comfortably living underneath the enormous amount of hype being put on the Cubs, St. Louis has trusted their ability to get hot at the right time and their veteran and playoff experience.

The sentiment throughout the clubhouse has consistently been, ‘we will do what is necessary when it is necessary.’ And, sure enough, here we are in late August, looking up at the standings and seeing the Cardinals holding onto a playoff spot and starting to get hot.

And that should be scary to every other team in the national league.

When I was looking at St. Louis before the season and trying to get a beat on the type of team they would be trotting out on a nightly basis, one thing always stuck out. Depth; St. Louis has it in spades. Teams like Washington or Chicago or even Miami may be able to put out a stronger starting 9 than the Cardinals, but St. louis has the 25 man – and even 40 man – roster to compete with anyone.

Having won 6 of their last 7 games following a woeful stretch of series against the lowly Reds, Braves and the mighty Cubs, something has clicked in the Cardinal clubhouse. The much maligned St. Louis bullpen has given up 2 runs in their last 21 innings, and the offense has put up 38 runs over the last 7 games. And this is all without, by and large, the best offensive player in the lineup being healthy since late July.

The Cardinals are just beginning to hit their stride, and they still have an extra gear.

So, when I say that St. Louis has the 25 man roster to compete with any club, what, exactly, does that mean and why should that raise their status as a true contending club? There’s one player in particular that I want to use to highlight my point, and who is, by himself, a microcosm of the St. Louis season.

Jedd Gyorko came over from the San Diego Padres during the offseason as the return package for Jon Jay. At the time, I thought, “Okay, a little move for some infield depth and flexibility with maybe some added power. Well done, Mo.” Turns out, Gyorko has been far more than just ‘a little move’.

While playing all 4 different infield positions and batting in every single lineup spot 1-9, Gyorko has turned in his best all around season, and has a case for being the Cardinals finest offensive player. And, keep in mind, this was a simple depth move that was supposed to strengthen the bench.

Gyorko hit his 20th home run of the season on Sunday in Philadelphia – good for 2nd on the team behind Brandon Moss’s 23 bombs, we’ll get into that – and has not yet eclipsed the 300 at bat mark. His 2.5 WAR is nearing a career high and is good for 4th on the team. Again, this is a depth player that doesn’t even have 300 at bats. And since July 1st, Gyorko is slugging .581, with 13 home runs in 136 at bats and a WRC+ of 146. With the rash of injuries that has hit St. Louis since late June, Gyorko’s surge has been incredible.

Yet another example of the Cardinals ‘next man up’ mentality. And, to even further Gyorko’s remarkable season, he plays good defense. Between his 4 infield positions – highlighted by a +6 at third base – Gyorko has 9 defensive runs saved.

Furthering the Cardinals depth is Brandon Moss. Coming into the season, the thing that Gyorko and Moss had in common was that both of them didn’t have a set role with the team. They were both sort of in limbo, not knowing when they would be called upon, but knowing that they would be called upon. Come August, both are vital cogs in the Cardinal machine, and Moss has re-asserted himself as one of the premier power hitters in all of baseball.

During the same game that Gyorko his his 20th bomb of the year, Moss mashed his 23rd, something that I would have expected at the start of the season, but am still in shock and awe of.

That team leading 23rd home run now has Moss averaging one home run every 12.6 at bats. For players with at least 300 at bats, this is the best rate in all of baseball. And Moss’ monstrous .570 slugging percentage on the entire season ranks 2nd in the national league behind Daniel Murphy (boo this man).

Now, what does this all have to do with the Cardinals chances in the playoffs? Every team has some surprises that come along and do big things, why are they special?

I’m highlighting these two players because they are a glimpse into why the Cardinals serve as a dangerous and scary beast one the playoffs arrive. The home run has been the primary weapon of choice in the Cardinal arsenal throughout this season, but those home runs come in wave after wave after wave.

St. Louis has 9 players with at least 10 home runs, and one – Tommy Pham – that should easily eclipse 10 and even has an outside shot at 20. And, as dangerous as the lineup may seem right now, just wait until Aledmys Diaz returns from a thumb injury. Adding a .912 OPS back into a lineup that sits 3rd in all of Major League Baseball with 631 runs scored can’t possibly hurt.

On a statistic-less note, St. Louis serves as a dangerous playoff team just because of their experience. As good as the Chicago Cubs or Washington Nationals are, those two teams just haven’t ‘been there’. The core of the St. Louis clubhouse has won a World Series and been to the playoffs for 5 straight seasons. This is a club that simply knows how to get the job done.

And, considering the random, free-for-all style of baseball that the playoffs often give us, St. Louis is as good a bet as anyone. When you throw everything out the window and put the Cardinals in the playoffs, their lineup, pitching staff, and bullpen match up favorably with anyone.

Let’s take Los Angeles, for example.

Match up the two lineups and St. Louis has scored 82 more runs and features a team OPS that is 57 points higher. On the starting pitching side, LA has a slight edge with an ERA of 4.09 in 673 innings while St. Louis sports a 4.23 ERA in 731.1 innings. However, the 673 innings pitched by Los Angeles’ pitching staff are only better than Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, while St. Louis’ 731.1 innings are good for 6th best in baseball. Which leads us into the bullpens, where Los Angeles ranks 3rd in all of baseball with at 3.25 ERA, while St. Louis sits right behind them, in 4th, at 3.30. But, considering all the innings that the Los Angeles rotation has thrown, the Dodger bullpen has shown signs of wear and tear of late with a 5.27 bullpen ERA during the month of August.

Los Angeles isn’t the only example I could use, but it just shows that St. Louis – even with all of their perceived flaws – can match up with anyone in a playoff scenario and be dangerous. Just a month ago, I was clamoring for John Mozeliak to sell, wave the white flag, and look towards next season with a clearer picture. Not only did Mozeliak not do what I told him to, but his club has now gotten hot, and is in somewhat secure control of a Wild Card spot.

Baseball is random, the Cardinals are random. When hot and healthy, this is not a team to be messed with, and the Cardinals are getting both hot and healthy; and that should scare the rest of baseball.

The Cardinals are Getting Hot and That Should be Scary