By mid-2013, the growing consensus among MLB master minds was that the St. Louis Cardinals were the best run organization in baseball.
Postseason Godfather Big Papi and his underdog Boston Red Sox crew exposed some weak links in St. Louis’ potentially dynastic armor by walloping them in the World Series, but the quality of the Cardinals' prospects, the shrewdly executed maneuvers of their front office and the depth of their organization can’t be denied as the team got busy again in 2014, won 90 games and the NL Central Division and is making what has become their yearly run at a World Series title.
Those strengths have been on full display this playoffs as off-the-hook performances by homegrown ballers have once again reflected superbly on the franchise and its plentiful farm system.
Matt Adams, drafted by the Cardinals in the 23rd round of the 2009 amateur draft, brutalized the LA Dodgers' WS hopes with his three-run blast off Clayton Kershaw in a Game 4 clincher.
Matt Carpenter had three clutch bangers and seven RBIs in the NLDS. His Game 1 homer and bases loaded gapper off the "unhittable" Clayton Kershaw (21-3 regular season) gave St. Louis a dramatic 7-6 lead.
Kelton Wong was drafted in the 1st round (22nd pick) of the 2011 amateur draft. The young blood was a major whipping boy in last year’s World Series loss after he got picked off for the final out of Game 4.
Wong redeemed himself in a huge way this playoffs by banging a two-run, seventh-inning homer that gave the Cards a 2-1 lead in their four-game NLDS win over highly-touted LA.
When Y2K hit and the world didn’t end, St. Louis turned up its post-millennial assault on the NL, finishing in first or second place in the division 12 out of 15 years.
Their history as a franchise is elite, winning 19 NL pennants, and 10 division crowns. Their 13 NLDS titles is an NL record and the Cards rock the most postseason victories by any MLB squad since 2000 and their 11 World Series Championships are second only to the Yankees 27 c’hips.
Renowned for their hardbody fan support despite being in one of the sport's middle markets, the Cardinals are always amongst MLB’s attendance leaders and have some of the most loyal and baseball-crazed fans in sports. The Cards are consistently among the top three in MLB in local television ratings and as of 2014, Forbes valued the franchise at $820 million, making it the eighth-most valuable franchise in MLB.
Even with all of that success, this NLCS is a crossroads for St. Louis’ franchise.
Despite the squad’s machine-like consistency in constructing stable, winning teams, developing young talent and finessing the organization’s financial health during the past 15 years, the city of St. Lunatics has only two titles to show for it (2006 and 2011 with Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa).
Two WS chips is nothing to sleep on, but like those Atlanta Braves teams of the late 80s and early 90s if the Cardinals don’t lock up one more, the next 25 years of conversation will be about what “could have been.”
The Cardinals have also lost a World Series and four NLCS Championship series during that period and they were favored in many of those contests.
2000: Lost NLCS to Mets, 4-1
2001: Lost NLDS to Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-2
2002: Lost NLCS to San Francisco Giants, 4-1
2004: Lost World Series to Boston Red Sox, 4-0
2005: Lost NLCS to Houston Astros, 4-2
2006: Won World Series over Detroit Tigers. 4-1
2009: Lost NLDS to Dodgers, 3-0
2011: Won World Series over Texas Rangers, 4-3
2012: Lost NLCS to Giants, 4-3
2013: Lost World Series to Boston Red Sox. 4-2
As Matheny’s Cards prepare for Saturday’s National League Championship Game 1 in the Bay, a familiar foe awaits—The San Francisco Giants, a team who in their own right should be in contention for dopest MLB franchise.
The Giants are no slouches. When it comes to WS hardware, "call yo' peoples" cause they tend "to eat those (competitors) just like c’hip Dor-i-tos." In fact, Bruce Bochy’s squad is looking for its third WS title in five years after advancing to its third NLCS in that same span. After winning in 2010 and 2012, the numbers game says the Giants are good money to win it all again in 2014. If that happens, then we have to re-evaluate this conversation for next season, because three titles in a half decade would definitely put the Giants closer to 90s Yankees Dynasty territory (4 titles in five season) and basically relegate the Cardinals to underachieving, 90s Braves territory.
San Francisco, who defeated a heavily-favored Nats team 3-1 in the NLDS—with all three wins decided by one run—have been able to keep the machine rolling despite not using Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain (elbow surgery) on the mound, no Angel Pagan (back surgery) and no Michael Morse, who will probably be added to the NLCS roster after battling an oblique strain.
Lincecum was a huge factor during the first two championship runs, going 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA as the staff ace in 2010 and striking out 20 in 172/3 innings, mostly in relief, in 2012. This playoffs, “The Freak” was the only player on the active roster not to see the field.
While stability is the staple of the Cardinals squad, the Giants are erratic in nature season to season, but one consistent remains in future Hall of Fame manager Bochy. His guys are like canines and when they sniff an opportunity for greatness, they tend to Shmurda Dance all over the postseason comp.
Things just seem to fall into place and guys seem to be satisfied and committed to functioning as one unit and doing their specific part in facilitating success. Like Hunter Pence’s incredible leaping grab at the wall off Jason Werth’s shot—that had triple writing all over it—in the 6th inning of a series clinching Game 4.
Every time he reps his hood on a Fox 5, October stage, Pence justifies that “questionable” $90 million contract San Fran gave him in the midst of a dreadful 2013 campaign , and he exemplifies the doe-or-die spirit that the Giants bring to the playoff party.
“We found a way to win,” said former MVP Buster Posey, who’s hitting .391 in the playoffs for the Giants and playing a mean catcher. “I think it really starts with our starting pitching. And the bullpen was great. I think the success we’ve had in the past; good pitching, defense and solid hitting is the key. The starting pitching has really executed in this series starting with (Jake Peavy) ‘Peave’, then ‘Huddy’ (Tim Hudson), who threw better than he has in months. Of course ‘Bum’ (staff ace Madison Bumgarner) and ‘Voge’ (Ryan Vogelsong)… and Voge had more velocity than I had seen in years.”
Finding ways to win the big game was something the dynamic and dominant Braves teams of the 90s and early 2000s failed to do. Those perennially sick squads yearly steam-rolled the division and featured recent Hall of Fame inductees, pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
The HOF hurlers were teammates from 1993 through 2002, and the Braves won a division title in each of those seasons (except the strike-obliterated 1994 season). Throw in division titles in 1991 and 1992, plus three more from 2003 to 2005 and the Braves won 14 consecutive division titles. That's like Kobe Bryant scoring 81 points-sick.
Problem is, there's a huge black eye on the legacy as well. Those 14 playoff appearances led to just one World Series title (1995) and a ton of heartbreaking moments, making the Braves one of the most forgettable dynasties ever .
Probably not as bad as Marv Levy’s Buffalo Bills team that lost four-straight Super Bowls from 1990-1993. That's just torture on fans.
Not as heart-wrenching as the Brooklyn Dodgers of the '50s, who won National League Pennants in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956, but were defeated in the World Series six of these seven times by the New York Yankees. However, the effect on fans who ride this high all season and then get bounced in the big game is just as psychologically damaging. Fans are condemned to bitter sweet memories and being the biggest and best losers. And credible managers like third-year skipper Mike Matheny (About 92-win average) are second-guessed and loathed for falling short of supremacy, while their counterparts are often praised for just showing up.
The Cardinals are embarking on a third-straight serious run at the crown. A victory over the Giants in the NLCS and an eventual WS title would solidify them as the “New Yankees.” Three WS c’hips and a ton of playoff success in the last decade would almost certainly catapult St. Louis to that lofty status.
San Fran is trying to shift the entire conversation in their direction. While they respect the Cardinals, Bochy’s butchers are looking to slice, box and bundle those birds.
“We all have respect for that team and what they have accomplished making what…four straight NLCS,“ Posey said. “But we are looking forward to the challenge.”
There’s a big difference between the Braves and the Yankees. Mainly, success in big spots. The Cardinals have a chance to rise to the MLB elite in the same way the San Antonio Spurs have surpassed the Lakers and Celtics as the NBA’s model franchise. In doing so, they can avoid becoming the NFL's Patriots -- post-Spygate. The Cardinals would love to stay riding that playoff high and sit alone as MLB’s Top Dawg operation, but there’s a road block in San Francisco that’s looking to postpone their coronation.