By Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale
The 2015 St. Louis Cardinals have been good. Really good. In fact, they have been historically good. The Cards won 100 games this year, the first time since 2005 and the ninth time a Redbird club did so.
The secret to their success starts with pitching, especially starting pitching. The Cardinals led the majors in ERA (2.91), including a MLB best 2.98 ERA from their starters who also amassed an MLB best 106 quality starts. All of this was achieved without ace Adam Wainwright and reliever Jordan Walden, who was supposed to be their late inning bridge to Trevor Rosenthal.
While Redbird pitching has been a model of consistency it does not fully tell the story of this team and its resiliency. The motto “next man up” epitomized this ball club. Matt Holliday went down for an extended period of time. No problem. Randal Grichuk comes into his own, until he gets hurt.
Not to worry.
We learned Stephen Piscotty was all he was touted to be a year earlier than we thought. Even Tommy Pham had something to prove as well and made the most of his opportunity. More amazingly, the embarrassment of riches in the outfield became known after the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, the organization’s most highly touted prospect in a generation, before the season started. The surprise contributions of the Cardinals outfielders reinforce the mainstay Holliday, who is back from the disabled list. Newcomer Jason Heyward’s arrival came at a heavy cost (Shelby Miller), but he showed every single one of his five tools throughout the year after a tepid April and was a one man wrecking crew down the stretch.
There were other injuries too. Matt Adams, Matt Belisle, Yadier Molina late in the season and Carlos Martinez but none of that seemed to matter as the club kept rolling with the now-eliminated Pittsburgh Pirates never quite able to catch up.
For a team that went 46-30 in perhaps the best division in MLB history, they are getting healthy at the right time with the notable exception of Carlos Martinez. There is also optimism at Busch that the most important thumb in America, the one on Yadi’s left hand, is healing. So now after consistently having to mix and match a lineup most of the year with unlikely heroes, and the “next man up” consistently answering the bell, Mike Matheny’s lineup is taking shape just in time for another postseason run.
A recently and relatively healthy Holliday anchors the middle of the lineup flanked by Heyward and Jhonny Peralta. Piscotty has emerged as a legitimate offensive threat and should be the first baseman for most of the postseason. Also, a rested Kolten Wong, who was showing signs of fatigue, should now be ready to go. But we should not lose sight of one indomitable and undeniable fact: as Matt Carpenter goes to the top of the lineup, so go the Cardinals. He is the catalyst, the ignition switch who unlocks big innings and does all the little things well. The good news for Cardinal fans is he ended the season on a tear, batting .309 with a 1.055 OPS in September.
And when it comes to renewed health and pitching no news was bigger than Wainwright coming off the disabled list late in the season. Although the team has been without him for most of the year he is now back. Waino is and should be the eighth-inning guy. He is the bridge to Rosenthal with some rare and minor exceptions. He is a smart, savvy pitcher in his prime with bullpen experience in high leverage situations (see 2006 and ask Carlos Beltran).
The Cards match up with the Cubs in the NLDS will be historic. After over 2300 regular season games these two teams hook up for the first time in the postseason. The reason of course has been, for the most part, the Cubs historic futility, but none of that matters right now. The Cardinals won 100 games and want that twelfth ring and the Cubs who won 97 want their first championship since 1908. For those keeping score at home, that’s a long time ago. That’s before radio and television, and Haley’s Comet has actually passed the earth twice since then.
But here we are.
It’s a best of five, winner take all grudge match.