When the Cardinals went to the World Series under Whitey Herzog in the 80’s and under Tony LaRussa in the 00’s, the teams had lots of experience as they traversed September. In addition to Herzog himself in 1982, the Cards had veterans like George Hendrick, Lonnie Smith, Jim Kaat and Bob Forsch that had been through the intensity of September pennant races. That group knew how to play when the game was on the line, and carried that experience into World Series appearances in 1985 and 1987.
LaRussa had lots of post-season experience too, and when he starting going to the playoffs regularly in 2000 and beyond, he had Mark McGwire, Edgar Renteria, Mike Matheny and Shawon Dunston. And when that veteran group led the way, younger or playoff-inexperienced guys like Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Matt Morris and Chris Carpenter earned their stripes for a dominant run.
A lack of big game experience is my biggest concern about the 2019 Cardinals. Sure, Yadier Molina, Paul Goldschmidt and Adam Wainwright are grizzled playoff veterans, and have shown lately that they’re capable of leading the way for at least a time as the Cards vie for a playoff spot.
My question is about the group that needs to follow. Kolten Wong has limited playoff experience. Paul DeJong, Harrison Bader, Tommy Edman and Marcell Ozuna have none. How will those players react to what really becomes a different sport in September and, hopefully, October?
While those guys are major question marks, we’ve seen recent Cardinal teams that didn’t have a lot of position player experience succeed at this time…players like Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, Matt Adams, Randal Grichuk and Steven Piscotty. But we haven’t seen a recent club without tested pitching succeed. That’s the biggest concern.
Jack Flaherty has been baseball’s best pitcher since the All Star Break. How does he react when he’s facing good teams like the Nationals and Cubs in must-win situations, especially on the road. Same with Dakota Hudson. He’s at an all-time high for innings pitched and is a pitcher the Cards are depending on greatly down the stretch.
Same with the bullpen. Closer Carlos Martinez and lefty Andrew Miller have pitched effectively in the World Series. Beyond that, there isn’t a reliever with a single post-season pitch thrown on the roster. Some guys rise to the occasion when this time of year arrives, and it doesn’t matter whether they have experience or not. Joaquin Andujar, John Tudor, Bruce Sutter, Wainwright, Jason Motte, Carpenter, Jeff Suppan and many others came up big at big times without having been there before. But pitchers like Jason Marquis, Shelby Miller, Dave Veres and Edward Mujica wilted in the glare of September.
And one other question: how will Mike Shildt do? The aforementioned Herzog and LaRussa managed often in the playoffs before they got to St. Louis. Mike Matheny had a ton of post-season experience as a player and knew how the intensity ratcheted up. Shildt has never been through a bona fide Major League race to the finish. Last year was somewhat of a test run for him, but the Brewers and Cubs were simply better teams and the Cardinals were hoping for a wild-card berth. How will Shildt handle September, and the inevitable adversity that comes with it? His players will reflect how he acts. While we’ve seen his generally even keel approach, it’ll be interesting to see how he handles September.
Just to be talking about it is great. The fact that we are talking about the Cardinals having a playoff chance is wonderful. But he curiosity of how THIS edition of the Redbirds will handle things makes this September particularly interesting to me, and I think they’ll handle it well.