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VOL. 129 | NO. 66 | Friday, April 04, 2014

 

Cardinals Expect ‘Good Things’ to Happen Again

By Don Wade

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At grantland.com, the writer said the St. Louis Cardinals have even more depth than last year’s team, but then he went on to pick the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the World Series.

At cbssports.com, the writer said the Cardinals were a “playoff certainty,” but called the Dodgers the “World Series favorite” – even while making a side trip to say that the team would need to “harness” outfielder Yasiel Puig.

Over at espn.com, some “experts” picked the Cardinals to win the pennant, but many more picked the Dodgers and the Washington Nationals.

The development of players with the Memphis Redbirds that occurs at AutoZone Park is a big part of the ongoing success of the St. Louis Cardinals.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“It doesn’t matter what we have done in the past,” Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright said last week when the Cardinals were at AutoZone Park for the exhibition game that rain denied. “Everyone always places us as the underdogs. Some people this year are not doing that – they are picking us to win – but we’re very comfortable in any situation.

“Pick us to win, don’t pick us to win – we don’t listen to the outside,” Wainwright said. “We stay inside and believe what we believe and play like we play, and usually good things happen.”

Consider Wainwright’s arrival in St. Louis. In 2006. He was a young bullpen guy not so different than all the young bullpen guys, including closer Trevor Rosenthal and set-up man Carlos Martinez, who helped the team reach the World Series in 2013.

Wainwright saved three games in the 2006 postseason as the Cardinals won the World Series. He didn’t get to play in 2011 because of Tommy John surgery when the Cardinals won the Series again in Tony La Russa’s last season as manager, but he was a 19-game winner in 2013.

In other words, he is used to winning. A lot. He is used to expectations that start with “playoff certainty,” but ultimately go to the top of the Gateway Arch.

One can always open a team’s media guide and get an immediate handle on a franchise’s tradition, or lack thereof. The New York Yankees have to devote more space to World Series records than do the Cardinals, but that’s it. The Cardinals have played in 19 World Series. They have won 11.

The birds on the bat are synonymous with winning. That’s simply true, no matter how much it might torture Cubs fans.

“The Cardinal Way,” however, perhaps has worn out its welcome as a catchphrase. When national television cameras focused on the team’s pitchers stretching in unison during the postseason last year and pointing to it as an example of team discipline, well, only the most avid Cardinal fans didn’t retch.

But that doesn’t change the fact the Cardinals are the organization just about every other organization would love to be. St. Louis is not a mega-market. The team draws from all of flyover country, still. The Cardinals win and usually with class. And the farm system, from Triple-A Memphis right on down to the Gulf Coast League Cardinals (rookie ball) is the lifeblood.

“That’s what makes this organization so good,” said infielder Matt Carpenter, who came up through the system. “Just like last year, we had a lot of guys that weren’t here on opening day but had an impact on our club. I’m sure this year will be no different.”

Said first baseman Matt Adams, like Carpenter a home-grown product: “The Cardinals bring in the right guys. They scout the guys they want to draft, they draft them, and they get better each year.”

General manager John Mozeliak rightfully has received much credit for the franchise’s recent success and does seem a little bewildered that other clubs continue to be picked to overtake them. But he’s not upset about it because he knows too well how fast the good times can turn.

“Frankly, we have had success,” Mozeliak said. “But this is a new year. We have to come out and redefine ourselves again.”

Just through spring training, they seemed well on their way. Peter Bourjos, acquired in trade from the Angels, will provide an upgrade defensively in center field over Jon Jay. Carpenter has moved to third to make way for Kolten Wong at second, and Jhonny Peralta, signed as a free agent, should give the team much more offense out of the shortstop position.

The starting rotation looks better with 21-year-old Michael Wacha, the postseason sensation, there from the beginning and young Shelby Miller coming off a 15-win season. Yadier Molina is the league’s best all-round catcher, left fielder Matt Holliday is pretty much a guaranteed 20-plus home run and 90-plus RBIs and .300 average guy; right fielder Allen Craig (.315, 13 and 97 in 2013) is just getting started.

But most telling? Wainwright, as a guy who has been around long enough to know most of the players across Major League Baseball, realizes how the Cardinals are viewed by other players – never mind whatever crazy thing Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips might say.

“Everybody who plays here loves it,” Wainwright said. “And everybody who leaves here wishes they were back here, and everybody who is not here wishes they were here.”

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