As the Cardinals start “Revenge Tour, 2013” and try to atone for the 2009 playoff loss to the Dodgers and the World Series loss to Boston five years before that, there are some interesting notes about the Redbirds heading into the NLCS.
It is remarkable that in the two years since winning the 2011 World Series, the Cards have undergone such dramatic change. Of the 16 players who appeared in Game 7 of that Fall Classic against Texas, only Yadier Molina and David Freese, among the starters, will be active for this series. Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso came off the bench in Game 7 against the Rangers. Two years later, there are actually more players retired or nudged toward retirement than playing with the Cardinals. Ryan Theriot, Lance Berkman, Rafael Furcal, Chris Carpenter and Arthur Rhodes either didn’t play or barely played in 2013, and it’s hard to imagine any will be active in 2014.
Also notable is that while the Cards have four players on their NLCS roster who played in that game (plus, in fairness, the injured Jason Motte and Allen Craig), the Dodgers have two. Skip Schumaker started that game in center field, and is the likely center fielder for Los Angeles in the NLCS, and Nick Punto, who pinch hit and came on to play second base that night, will be a backup infielder for L.A.
The change goes beyond that. Among pitchers on the Cardinal World Series roster in 2011, only Lance Lynn is back this time. No other active pitchers from that postseason (Adam Wainwright missed that year with Tommy John surgery) are on this year’s NLCS list.
The Cards have Pete Kozma at short rather than Furcal, Matt Carpenter at second rather than Theriot, Matt Adams at first rather than Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday in left rather than Craig, Jay in center over Schumaker, and Carlos Beltran in right rather than Berkman. Only Freese and Molina were regulars in the 2011 postseason lineup who will man their positions in the 2013 NLCS.
Despite all of those changes, the Cardinals are in the NLCS for the third straight year. Only Molina remains from the 2006 lineup, and he was a part-time player when the Cards lost to Boston in 2004. Wainwright was the closer for that club and is the ace of this one. Yet for all of that turnover, the Cardinals have played in the NLCS six times in the last 10 years. That speaks to an amazing organization led by Bill DeWitt that understands not only what a good player looks like, but where the sport was and is headed. When DeWitt decided to build from within when he hired John Mozeliak as general manager, it wasn’t only because younger players are cheaper. DeWitt noted that major revenue sharing was on the way in MLB, and the players the Cardinals could trade for in the past wouldn’t be there anymore.
Whereas the Cards could get a Mark McGwire from Oakland, a Darryl Kile from Colorado or a Scott Rolen from Philadelphia because of those franchises’ financial duress, that option isn’t at play anymore. It used to be that Pittsburgh couldn’t keep a player like Andrew McCutchen, and would have to deal him after four or five years. Now, they’ve signed him to a new six-year contract. The Rays can keep Evan Longoria and Matt Moore, the Mariners can keep Felix Hernandez and the Rockies can sign and keep guys like Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, when they had to trade guys like Kile and Larry Walker a decade ago. DeWitt saw that coming, and it’s worked to the Redbirds’ advantage.
Regardless of what happens from here on out, we know that the fourth-youngest team in baseball has a spectacular future. There’s tons of room for improvement for pitchers like Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha, and position players like Adams and Kozma, not to mention Kolten Wong and Oscar Tavares.
If the Cards need a player, they have the kids and the cash on hand to go make a deal for one. And we know that they can win with what they have on hand. It’s an amazing time to be a Cards fan. Enjoy it while you can.