In the preview for Monday night’s NLCS Game Seven, I wrote that one team’s fan base was going to experience the much sought after ecstasy that makes the visceral experience of cheering for a sports team worthwhile. Translated, that just means that some fans were going to be super stoked following a Game Seven victory. I also wrote that to the other team’s fan base, the one that loses, I would offer my deepest condolences.
Losing a playoff series in the manner that the St. Louis Cardinals did – three straight losses after going up three games to one – is likely the second cruelest way to be eliminated from baseball’s postseason. Please see the 2004 ALCS for the cruelest. It’s certainly a more difficult pill to swallow than the series sweep that New York Yankees supporters suffered in the ALCS. While the Yankees looked completely out of place against the Detroit Tigers, the Cardinals appeared dominant in three of the first four games of the series, and were within a single victory of making the World Series.
That would be upsetting for any fan base, even one that imagines itself as grand as St. Louis Cardinals supporters. However, for the best fans in baseball, there are a lot of reasons to be happy.
Losing a playoff series in baseball doesn’t mean that one team is inferior to the other. It more often than not means that one team got better bounces over a short period of time than the other through no demonstrably different measure of skill or talent. It’s how baseball works. There’s a reason that the regular season consists of 162 games. It’s because it takes that long, given the amount of random outcomes that happen, to get an idea of a team’s true talent.
Over a best-of-seven game series, let alone a best-of-five game series or a single game playoff, so much can happen outside of the control of the players of the team, that it seems foolish to hold individuals accountable for the results game to game. The Cardinals are a very good team, and if the 2012 NLCS was to be held a million times, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if St. Louis emerged victorious over San Francisco more times than not.
It’s a very good team that played at Busch Stadium this season, and they’re going to get better. It’s almost ridiculous to imagine that the Cardinals emerged as such a powerhouse in what could very well be considered a transitional year for the club, after it lost its long-time manager to retirement and its best player for the previous decade to free agency.
Consider this: The starting lineup for St. Louis through parts of the post-season included six position players that had come up through the team’s system and were all pre-arbitration players. The list is comprised of Jon Jay, Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, David Freese, Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma. Of those players, only Freese will be eligible for arbitration this off-season.
That type of successful roster construction would elicit praise for up-and-coming organizations, but the remarkable thing is that the Cardinals are competing at the highest level with this type of team already. This type of talented youth movement isn’t limited to position players either.
Throughout the postseason, St. Louis relied on a trio of young pitchers in Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly to perform out of the bullpen. All three pitchers, none of whom are older than 24, are capable of hitting the mid to upper-nineties with their fastballs, and project to be starters in the big leagues. When asked about this future triumvirate of awesome, General Manager John Mozeliak suggested that despite the trio’s postseason success out of the bullpen, the best young pitcher in the Cardinals organization didn’t even pitch at the Major League level this season: Carlos Martinez.
The 21-year-old, right-handed starter boasts a 100 miles per hour fastball, a slider/curve at a much lower velocity and a quickly developing change up that Keith Law still called a plus pitch at the beginning of this past season. St. Louis also own the rights to the the player widely believed to be the best hitting prospect in baseball in Oscar Taveras, who has basically set the world on fire at every level at which he’s played. Last season, at Double A Springfield, the 20-year-old left-handed hitter smashed 23 home runs and put up a .411 weighted on base average.
This is all to say that the St. Louis Cardinals are going to be around as a successful franchise for the next many years, and this year’s success, and this year was very much a success for the franchise, only serves to represent what is to come. So, uh, yeah. Good luck with the future, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs. You’ll probably need it.