What is there to say about a team that has made its League Championship Series three straight years while going to the postseason 10 times in the last 14 years?
It’s a St. Louis Cardinals world, clearly, and the rest of Major League Baseball is just living in it.
Seriously, in eight of those playoff trips since 2000, the Cardinals have made the National League Championship Series, and this is their fourth trip to the World Series in that time span. No NL team would not crave those parameters of success, and St. Louis has a plethora of young players who will continue to make the Cards organization the envy of the rest of league — as well as experienced and grizzled veterans who show the youngsters the way to do it right.
If it wasn’t for the random and anomalous meltdown the Cardinals experienced in the NLCS in 2012, this could have been the chance for the first MLB World Series three-peat since the Yankees did it from 1998-2000.
What Went Right For St. Louis In 2013:
Yadier Molina continued to be the team’s heart and soul. After getting robbed of the Most Valuable Player award in 2012, all he did was go out and put up another MVP-caliber season (.319, 80 RBI, excellent defense). Young Matt Carpenter blossomed into one of the best players in the NL — and one of the best second basemen in all of baseball — with his .318 average and 55 doubles this year. First baseman Allen Craig hit .315 and drove in 97 runs, while outfielders Matt Holliday (.300, 22 HR, 94 RBI) and Carlos Beltrán (.296, 24 HR, 84 RBI) did what they were supposed to do as veterans on this young team.
Overall, the Cardinals set the all-time MLB record for batting average with runners in scoring position this year, hitting a ridiculous .330 in 1,355 such at-bats. That line included a .402 on-base percentage and an .865 OPS in those key moments. It’s hard for an offense to get any better than the St. Louis lineup did in 2013, finishing number one in the NL in scoring (4.83 runs per game) by about a half-run per contest over the Colorado Rockies. On the pitching side, the Cards posted the fifth-best ERA in the NL, including the second-best ERA in the majors for the starting staff (3.42). In fact, the St. Louis rotation posted an MLB-high 77 wins this year, led by Adam Wainwright (19 wins), Shelby Miller (15) and Lance Lynn (15). The Cards also were able to overcome major injuries to starters Chris Carpenter and Jaime García, while also needing to break in a new closer (Trevor Rosenthal) as the season ended.
What Went Wrong For St. Louis In 2013:
Well, not much went wrong for the St. Louis offense, and mostly, it was the aforementioned injuries to the pitching staff that hurt the organization this season. The 38-year-old Carpenter — who won the NL Cy Young in 2005 and should have won it in 2009 with a 17-4 record and a 2.24 ERA for a playoff team — couldn’t come back from what some might call a sixth career-ending surgery, and he has announced he will retire at the end of the postseason. In addition, St. Louis had to adjust for the loss of the 26-year-old Garcia to shoulder problems after only nine starts this season. He was third in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2010, even though he posted the lowest ERA (2.70) by a rookie starter this century, at the time. And then, 29-year-old journeyman-turned-closer Edward Mujica — himself a replacement for the injured Jason Motte — posted an 11.05 ERA in September, right as the team was striving for the best record in the league and home-field advantage for the NL playoffs.
World Series Outlook:
In winning both the NL Division Series match-up over Pittsburgh and the NL Championship Series over the Los Angels Dodgers, the Cardinals pitching really hasn’t been tested yet by a consistently good offensive lineup. Those two opponents were 17th (L.A.) and 20th (Pittsburgh) in the majors this year scoring runs; Boston was the top-scoring team in the majors this year. St. Louis’ pitching will be tested severely, and without home-field advantage, to boot.
On the flip side, the Dodgers and the Pirates posted the second and third-best team ERA marks this year in the major leagues, and the Cards scored plenty of runs off those two staffs in the playoffs to get here. The Red Sox finished 14th in the majors in ERA, so St. Louis will probably continue to score well. The key for the Cards may be how their rookie — or nearly rookie — pitchers will perform on the big stage. Even though they may not be “rookies” any more after two rounds of playoffs, closer Rosenthal (98 career IP), swingman Miller (3.06 ERA this year as a rookie), and starters Joe Kelly (31 career starts) and Michael Wacha (64 2/3 career IP) will have to maintain their composure and maturity for St. Louis to win its second Series in three years.