You’d have to be living under a rock to not know the front-runners in this year’s NLDS. The Nationals and the Dodgers were the obvious picks. The exorbitant payroll of the Dodgers would make a congressman blush. The Nationals were runaway winners in their division. What else is there to know? We were to see these two teams face off in the NLCS and then go face the Tigers or (hopefully) the Angels. The St. Louis Cardinals need not apply. That national media narrative is annoying for fans of smaller market teams, but it’s also annoying for anyone who really pays attention to baseball.
Sure, the Dodgers finished with a 6 game lead in the NL West. Sure, the Nationals finished with a 17 game lead in the NL East. Of course, what the national media won’t fixate on is the relatively weak divisions those two teams play in. The Dodgers play in a division where there is essentially one competitor, the Giants. In fact, the city by the bay was the only other team in the NL West to post a winning record. The rest ranged from eight games below .500 to 34 games under.
The Nationals also play in a division with no real competition. The Mets and Braves tied for second place and both finished four games below .500. The Marlins and Phillies were eight and 16 games under .500 respectively. The two teams ordained by baseball pundits to proceed to the NLCS lost in four games and are currently setting up tee times.
The Cardinals are a small market team – a small market team that has one brand name pitcher in Adam Wainwright. They’re a team that traded away Allen Craig. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but he hit pretty well with runners in scoring position last season. They don’t have a Yasiel Puig. They have Oscar Taveras, and when he doesn’t start a game, ESPN won’t have a stand-up and seven minute package to roll. Also, the Cardinals don’t have Albert Pujols anymore…so there’s that.
The Cardinals have something that everyone in the business hates and fears a lot more than four Cy Young caliber pitchers for their postseason rotation. They’ve got something a lot more formidable than a middle of the order that can go yard with ease. They have a track record of success. By now, you’ve no doubt heard the new narrative: the Cards have gone to the NLCS for the last four years. You’ve probably heard that since 2000, they’ve seen the postseason 11 times. For the mathematically challenged, that means that since 2000, they’ve only not made the postseason four times.
Of particular concern for deadline-driven writers, they have a track record for beating up otherwise stellar pitchers in the postseason, notably Clayton Kershaw. Oh, and there’s some else irritating about this little team from a little city: they refuse to just take the losses handed to them, even when they trail late in games. Everyone knows the Dodgers have a hole in their bullpen big enough to drive a truck through. All they need to do is get from Kershaw to Kenley Jansen and the Cardinals are so rude that they insert themselves into a seventh inning against a guy on short rest at 100 pitches, who obviously doesn’t have his best stuff. The gall.
All kidding aside, this is a team who you just cannot write off, count out, or otherwise discount. Their fourth starter could go out and toss a gem. Their pinch hitter, who few have heard of, could come up with a clutch hit to put the team ahead in the seventh inning. You just never know. That’s what makes October great, but it’s especially great for Cardinals fans.