If you’ve watched any baseball at all this year, you know one thing definitively: the St. Louis Cardinals are the best team on the planet. While regular-season glory does not always translate to October success, there is something eerily
similar about this team to the New England Patriots (and it’s not just the hacking scandal from earlier this year that was akin to New England’s “Spygate). The Cardinals are as complete a team as the game has seen in years, and should have no problem becoming the first team in four years to top the century mark in wins (the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies won 102). Here are 12 reasons why this year’s club will win the franchise’s 12th World Series championship in 2015:
The intimidation factor
(excluding the Giants and Red Sox)
sleep on this. Only two teams – one of which definitely won’t make
the playoffs and one that is on the bubble – have beaten St. Louis
in the postseason in the past half-decade. The Boston Red Sox won’t
participate in October and the San Francisco Giants might, but the
truth is, the rest of the National League teams have been overwhelmed
by St. Louis, in the regular season but especially in October.
Los Angeles Dodgers? Forget it. Clayton Kershaw is 0-4 with a 6.14
ERA in five career postseason starts against the Cardinals, and his
team has been bounced from the playoffs each of the last two
Octobers. The Pittsburgh Pirates? They are 4-18 in their last 22
visits to Busch Stadium and lost the 2013 NLDS, albeit in five games.
The New York Mets? They would be making their first playoff
appearance since 2006, when they lost Game 7 of the NLCS at home to –
you guessed it – St. Louis. Until the Giants did it last year, no
other road team had won a Game 7 since then. The Cardinals have an ever-growing aura and mystique
Everybody contributes – and I
I had told you before the year that Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday,
and Matt Adams would all miss all or most of the season, you probably
would have given St. Louis slim to none odds to win the NL Central.
Instead, enter Tommy Pham, Stephen Piscotty, Carlos Villanueva,
Miguel Socolovich, and even Dan Johnson. Those “unsung heroes”
are bigger stretches, but even the most upbeat Cardinal fan couldn’t
have even envisioned the type of seasons the team is getting from
Jaime Garcia, Randal Grichuk, Kevin Siegrist, and perhaps even Jason
Earl Weaver used to say, the Cardinals have “deep depth.” In
addition to the aforementioned injured stars, don’t forget a number
of other names are currently down for the count – Grichuk,
relievers Matt Belisle and Jordan Walden, and outfielder Jon Jay.
Just imagine how much better this team will get if even just one or
two of those players comes back.
Cardinals live a charmed life in October
team may have invented the “down to their last strike” motto and
might as well trademark it. If twice facing World Series elimination
with one more strike against the Texas Rangers in 2011 wasn’t enough,
they stunned the Washington Nationals by doing it two more times in
Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. And that was after Wainwright got bombed
early in the game – the heroes were Daniel Descalso and, as he’s
almost certainly known now in D.C., Pete (Bleeping) Kozma.
year, even though they fell in five games to the Giants in the NLCS,
they pulled off one of the most stunning comebacks in Game 1 of the
NLDS against Kershaw and the Dodgers, rallying from 6-2 down for
eight runs in the seventh inning in an eventual 10-9 win.
starting pitching is historically good
historically good, you ask? The Cardinals’ rotation, even minus
Wainwright, is almost on pace to break the record for fewest runs
allowed in a 162-game season, set by the 1967 Chicago White Sox
(342). The National League record, ironically, is 360 by the
aforementioned-2011 Phillies. That even overshadows the incredible
2.82 ERA by the rotation, and the 265 total runs allowed (242 earned)
puts them on pace to barely miss the record (343.4). Oh well. No one
in St. Louis is complaining.
bullpen isn’t too shabby, either
in the glow of a rotation whose fifth starter would be an ace on most
clubs is the NL’s best bullpen. The Cards’ 2.35 mark is barely behind
the Major League-leading team from across the state, the Kansas City
Royals (2.32). More importantly, the bullpen is fresh, having only
thrown the 10th-fewest innings in baseball. By comparison, K.C.’s
league-leading corps has thrown the fifth-most innings. Trevor
Rosenthal is a rock at closer, converting 39 of 41 saves with a 1.57
ERA, while lefty setup man Kevin Siegrist has a 1.73 ERA and more
strikeouts (69 to 64) than Rosenthal in the exact same amount of
innings (57 1/3).
offense is deep if not explosive
so hard to nitpick with this team, but it’s understandable that
people might point to the 499 runs scored ranking 23rd
in baseball. St. Louis’ team batting average (.254) is tied for 12th,
and their on-base percentage (.320) is tied for 11th.
Though they don’t hit a ton of home runs (104 as a club), they have
six players in double-figures, and that’s without the services of
Holliday and Adams. Piscotty already has as many as Holliday (four)
in just 32 games, and catcher Yadier Molina, who also has four, is
still one of the more dynamic offensive catchers in the game.
rugged NL Central makes them even more battle-tested
in the year, even as it was evident the Cardinals would coast in
2015, it was hard to forecast what the rest of the division would do.
The Pirates got off to a sluggish start before turning it on in May,
and the Chicago Cubs were having a hard time living up to
suddenly-heightened expectations. But both Pittsburgh and Chicago
have been on a tear of late, and the third-place Cubs would actually
be leading all but one other division at this point. The Cardinals
have dominated the division as a whole, going 32-18 overall, and are
7-6 against the Pirates and 9-4 against the Cubs.
is where the wins are
that St. Louis can’t win on the road (34-26), but they are virtually
untouchable at home. The Cards are an MLB-best 46-19 at Busch
Stadium, including 11-2 combined against the Pirates and Cubs and
15-4 overall against the fourth other teams currently in playoff
position. Close games are not a problem for St. Louis, as it has a
league-best nine wins when trailing after seven innings, as well as
eight walk-off wins.
’em early, or don’t get ’em at all
trend to keep an eye on is the Cardinals’ refusal to lose early in
the playoffs. In 12 playoffs appearances under the wild card format,
St. Louis is 10-2 in the division series, losing only in 2001 in five
games to the eventual-champion Arizona Diamondbacks and suffering a
sweep at the hands of the Dodgers in 2009. They have reached the NLCS
seven times in the last 11 years, winning four pennants and two World
Series titles. You get the feeling that they might be susceptible to
an early upset, but if not, it’s hard to imagine them losing to the
Mets or Dodgers in the NLCS or even an American League upstart in the
mentioned before about the nine wins when trailing after seven
innings. The Cardinals’ 35 come-from-behind wins are second only to
the Pirates’ 36, and have not squandered a lead of more than three
when they don’t score, they win
it’s unreasonable to expect a team to win when its offense can only
scratch across a single run, it isn’t much more of a stretch to think
a team is in big trouble when it only scores two. Not the Cardinals.
They are 8-6 when they score only two runs in a game, and 17-8 when
they get just three. If they get six, forget about it – they are
29-0 in those situations.
Wainwright? We’ve seen this movie before…
of the first things Wainwright said when he went down with an
Achilles’ tear is that he believed this team was special, and noted
that the last time he missed the year, the team won it all anyway. In
2011, when Wainwright didn’t throw a single pitch due to Tommy John
surgery, the Cardinals found a way to get it done in October without
him. Though he made four starts in 2015, the rotation simply hasn’t
missed a beat in his absence, and he continues to provide clubhouse
leadership and guidance despite not contributing on the field.