Yes, the A’s and Orioles have had amazing seasons, but what about the St. Louis Cardinals?
Good organizations endure. That’s the lesson of the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals. They’re a reminder that strong, thoughtful leadership can never be overestimated. To have undergone the kind of change the Cardinals have had and to still end up one victory from a second straight trip to the NLCS speaks volumes about Bill DeWitt, John Mozeliak and their organization.
Since Game 7 of the World Series, the Cardinals have lost Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa. They didn’t have Lance Berkman and Chris Carpenter for most of this season and lost Rafael Furcal with 31 games remaining. But they still ended up in the playoffs for the 10th time in 17 seasons.
Back in Spring Training, the Cardinals may have seen this as a transitional year. They believed they had a good team, but weren’t sure if anything less than the World Series would make the season a failure. They ended up winning just two fewer games (90-88) than last season.
So how did they do it? First, their stars played like stars. Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday. Kyle Lohse and Carlos Beltran. Second, Allen Craig emerged as a star, and combined with those other guys to make the middle of the order as productive as almost any. A bunch of other young players—Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller, etc.—showed all kinds of promise.
It’s impossible to look at the number of good young players and not be excited about the Cardinals keeping this nice run going for a few more years. No matter how the rest of this season plays out, the season feels like a success.
It probably would be impossible to calculate how different the 2012 Cardinals are from the 2011 Cardinals. La Russa was a huge presence, a huge influence. His departure left Mozeliak in control of the organization, and his two most important decisions were smart and successful.
First, there was the hiring of Mike Matheny. It was a gutsy call since he’d never managed, but Matheny has passed this first test with flying colors. In terms of managing games and people, he has been very, very good. No manager is more prepared. To survive the grind of a pennant race and a difficult season says plenty of good things about him.
And there’s Beltran. Mozeliak thought of him the moment Pujols signed with the Angels. He moved quickly to get him signed, thinking that if he stayed healthy he might just be nearly as productive as Pujols. Beltran hit more home runs than Pujols (32-30) and had a slightly lower OPS (.859 vs .842.).
There’s no way of knowing how it’ll play out. The Cardinals are a game away from going to the NLCS, but the Nationals were the National League’s best team almost from start to finish. If the Cardinals win this round, they’ll be nicely position to win another pennant.
That’s not what this post is about. This is about recognizing a great organization for sticking to its core beliefs, for having the guts to assign value to a player and then walking away from that player. To DeWitt and Mozeliak, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In the end, that’s what this season has been about for the Cardinals.