ST. LOUIS – Since 2011, the bill for clubhouse carpet cleaning and/or replacement has been high for the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s a price willingly paid for all those champagne fests, every step of the way.
Like clockwork, October arrives and so do the Cardinals, primed for another deep postseason run. The last four years, they’ve advanced to the NL Championship Series, winning the World Series in 2011.
The script changes from year to year, and so does the supporting cast. The bottom line: consistent excellence.
Despite myriad injuries and without an MVP or Cy Young Award candidate among them, the Cardinals led the majors with 100 victories. By now, everyone knows what they’re capable of this time of the year.
“It’s definitely a unique season, especially when you think back to how some of these injuries occurred,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “It shows you the resilience of our club.”
Every year, they can say that.
Last year, 10 rookies made their debut for a team that took the division lead for good in August. The late push was aided by the trade deadline pickup of John Lackey, and then St. Louis twice bested Clayton Kershaw in the NL Division Series.
Michael Wacha made his major league debut in 2013, less than a year after being drafted in the first round. Then he was the surprise breakout star in series wins over the Pirates and again, Kershaw and the Dodgers.
In 2011, the Cardinals rallied from 101⁄2 games back in late August to gain a wild-card berth, then knocked off the Braves, Phillies and Brewers with clinching victories on the road in their final season under Tony La Russa.
“I think everybody has tried to emulate quality, and they’ve got a blueprint of success that’s definitely one to take notice of,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “They play the game hard, smart, and they develop from within.”
The roster is largely homegrown with strategic additions like Jason Heyward, acquired from Atlanta last fall after the death of promising Oscar Taveras.
They’ve been so successful, over the years a backlash has been building against the so-called Cardinal Way, a set of organizational principles based on fundamentals and discipline.
Manager Mike Matheny noted several times during the season that some people just don’t seem to like his team. A protracted FBI investigation of hacking into the Houston Astros computer database served to intensify that disdain in some quarters.
What could have been a major distraction has been no factor at all.
In addition to being draft-savvy and organizationally deep, they’re also intensely focused on the task at hand. There’s no arguing this year’s unusual success tale.
They were tested early and often, and always found a solution.
“The group we throw out there, we have a lot of faith they can do the job,” Matheny said. “Regardless of who’s been in there, somebody else has to step up. Just do their piece.”
Need a starter? Lefty Jaime Garcia’s return from career-threatening shoulder woes took the sting off of losing ace Adam Wainwright in April.
“Jaime is always a challenge because he’s got such an eclectic array of pitches,” the Reds’ Joey Votto said. “When he’s on, he’s really, really difficult because of how much his ball moves.”
Carlos Martinez, a 14-game winner who led the rotation most of the year, was shut down in late September with a shoulder injury.
The Cardinals can get by with four starters in the postseason, and up steps Lance Lynn (Ole Miss), well-seasoned for this time of the year.
How about outfielders and a first baseman? Former trade throw-in Randal Grichuk thrived with regular playing time when Matt Holliday and Jon Jay were sidelined for extended periods. Fellow rookies Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham arrived in the bigs with no trace of awe; Piscotty can fill either vacancy.
“He’s been able to really make some quick adjustments,” Matheny said.
Short a set-up man? Lefty Kevin Siegrist had a bounce-back year holding leads for franchise record-setting closer Trevor Rosenthal. Both players were late-round afterthought draft picks.
When catcher Yadier Molina was sidelined with a torn ligament in his left thumb in mid-September, seldom used backup Tony Cruz stepped up.
Meanwhile, Wainwright’s amazingly rapid return from a torn left Achilles further crowds a bullpen already bolstered by acquiring Jonathan Broxton and Steve Cishek.
The two-time 20-game winner looked good in three late-season relief stints, each for one inning.
There are so many success stories that Matheny and Mozeliak will have an uncommon problem before beginning the Division Series against either the Pirates or Cubs on Friday in St. Louis. The roster is overstuffed now with long-term injured players returning and, undoubtedly, deserving players will be left off the playoff roster.