The League Division Series has always been Major League Baseball’s red-haired post-season stepchild. After all, the series is just five games instead of seven and fans have to search for the games, as they are often held at odd times and are not televised on the major networks.
As part of the second-tier status of the LDS, Major League Baseball does not see fit to name Most Valuable Players for the series, unlike in the League Championship Series and World Series.
The Cardinal Nation is happy to step into the void, naming St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com National League Division Series Most Valuable Player for 2012.
A brief history
I first decided to do something about this need in 2005, when I created our version of the NLDS MVP award, giving it to Reggie Sanders. The veteran outfielder drove in an amazing ten runs in the Cardinals’ three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres.
For me, the idea really gained traction the next year. Then-assistant general manager John Mozeliak of the Cardinals was suspected of providing several of the club’s free agent signees the sleeves out of his vest - including bonus clauses in the players’ contracts for an award that did not and still does not formally exist.
With creative thinking like that, it is no wonder Mozeliak soon moved up the ladder.
After making a big deal about the NLDS MVP award in the spring of 2006, I bestowed our own version upon Ron Belliard that fall. The second baseman was only briefly a Cardinal, having signed his 2006 contract with the Indians, so he apparently had no LDS MVP clause.
It did not matter. Belliard hit .462 and made several strong defensive plays as the Cards eliminated San Diego in four games on their way to the World Championship.
In 2009, when the Cardinals were dispatched most painfully in the NLDS by Los Angeles in three straight games, I did not give an MVP award. After all, I didn’t want to write about the Dodgers.
Last season, the story was once again much better as the Cardinals defeated the 102-win Philadelphia Phillies in a hard-fought five-game LDS. Faced with two consecutive elimination games, the Cards took both.
The culmination was our LDS MVP Chris Carpenter’s three-hit complete game shutout at Philadelphia. The veteran right-hander led the Cards to a 1-0 victory in an epic battle with another former Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay.
The 2012 winner
If anyone had suggested that the Cardinals’ number seven hitter, a light-hitting middle infielder, would lead the team in RBI, runs scored and be tied for the lead in home runs, they would have to assume the club lost the LDS, right?
Despite Daniel Descalso having hit just .227 in the regular season with four home runs and 26 RBI in 426 plate appearances, manager Mike Matheny penciled the second baseman into his post-season lineup each game in the number seven spot.
The 25-year-old (he turns 26 next Friday) rewarded that confidence with seven runs scored, two home runs, six RBI and a slash line of .316/.333/.684/1.017 in the five-game series.
The Game 5 hero launched an eighth-inning leadoff home run to right field off Tyler Clippard Friday night to briefly bring the Cards to within 6-5. He then punctuated the big performance with a game-tying two-out, two-run single in the ninth inning against Nats’ closer Drew Storen.
Number eight hitter Pete Kozma followed with a similar result, providing the Cardinals their final two-run edge over the Washington Nationals. The 9-7 win Friday night clinched the NLDS for St. Louis.
In the deciding Game 5, Descalso went 3-for-5, including a single, double and home run. He stole a base, scored three times and drove in three.
Even before the final contest, Nationals manager Davey Johnson paid Descalso a compliment, noting, “He looks like Rod Carew out there, with power.”
Such is the beauty of a post-season series, when a role player can produce like a Hall-of-Famer.
Other Cardinals with solid LDS performances
An even more unlikely LDS standout than Descalso was shortstop Kozma, only in action due to injury to Rafael Furcal. Though Kozma batted just .250 in the series, he also drew five walks for an OBP of .455. On a team with proven run-producers like Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, David Freese and Allen Craig, it was Kozma who drove in the second-most runs in the LDS with five. In addition to his Game 7-clincher, his three-run home run in Game 3 was a key momentum-shifter.
A late-season disappointment, Beltran came alive in the LDS, particularly in Games 2 and 7. The outfielder blasted two home runs in the Game 2 blowout and drove in three. In the clincher, Beltran reached base all five times on two singles, a double and two walks. The number two hitter scored twice. Overall, Beltran batted .444 with a .542 OBP and .944 SLG in the LDS, all tops on the team.
We can’t forget about the pitching, which cumulatively held the Nats to a .232 batting average while posting a 2.86 ERA.
Though the Cardinals did not win Game 4, the fact they were in the contest until the end was in large part due to starter Kyle Lohse’s efforts. The veteran right-hander held the Washington offense to just two hits and one run over seven innings in his only LDS appearance.
Carpenter’s gutty 5 2/3 innings of scoreless ball in Game 3 was a key spark to the Cardinals seizing the first game in Washington and a 2-1 series lead. It was his first win of the season after a most unexpected return.
Normally, middle relievers don’t receive any attention unless they screw up. Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal did just the opposite and deserve to take bows. The hard-throwing rookie right-handers combined to allow just two baserunners in seven scoreless innings of work. That included 2 2/3 perfect innings with four strikeouts Friday to keep the Cardinals in the game after Adam Wainwright was pulled with one out in the third.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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