The Cardinals represent excellence and a commitment to doing things right
Our spring interview was winding down when I said something to Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak about his relationship with team owner Bill DeWitt Jr.
“Oh,” he said, “we’re in lockstep.”
He didn’t mean that he and DeWitt agreed on everything. He didn’t mean they always saw the world the same way. He simply meant that the Cardinals speak with one voice.
When they make important decisions, they talk them out, weigh the pros and cons and arrive at a decision. DeWitt has the final call, but he gives everyone a voice.
Once the decision is made, it’s not a DeWitt call or a Mozeliak call. It’s a Cardinals call. There’s confidence and resolve.
And this, perhaps more than anything, reveals the greatness of the Cardinals.
They are baseball’s model franchise. At least they’re on the short list. They do not spend the most money or make the splashiest moves.
They’re patient in giving their own players a chance to play. But they’re also unafraid to make big bold trades. Mozeliak has pulled off a couple of beauties the last 18 months.
The Cardinals will win the most games in baseball for the second time in three seasons. Over the last three seasons combined, their 283 regular-season victories are the most in baseball.
In that time, they’ve also played in and won more postseason games than any other franchise. They haven’t won a World Series since 2011, and around St. Louis, that’s considered a huge negative.
In St. Louis, the bar is winning championships. Fans and the media expect it. No big deal there. The Cardinals expect that of themselves.
First, there’s stability.
In the last 20 seasons, the Cardinals have had one owner, two general managers and two managers. Only the Yankees have had that kind of continuity.
In that time, only the Yankees and Braves have won more regular-season games than the Cardinals. Only the Yankees have won more postseason games.
Second, there’s the ability to make tough decisions.
Albert Pujols was allowed to leave via free agency because the Cardinals weren’t comfortable with where the years and money had gone. They made the toughest of tough calls to trade one of their favorite homegrown players, Allen Craig, in a roster shakeup.
When Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa departed after the 2011 championship, Mozeliak stayed in house and gave the job to Mike Matheny.
He’d never managed at any level, but he was held in such respect by the organization and by the clubhouse, that the call now seems easy.
His 374 regular-season victories are the most by any big league manager in four seasons at the helm. Of all the hundreds of smart decisions Mozeliak has made, none has been smarter than this one.
The Cardinals won 100 games this season, but it wasn’t easy. Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles tendon in his fourth start. Matt Holliday and Matt Adams missed huge chunks of the season.
Twenty-two teams have scored more runs than the Cardinals. Yet the Cardinals climbed atop baseball’s toughest division on April 17th and have been there ever since.
The Pirates and Cubs might be the second- and third-best teams in baseball, but there was no time when the Cardinals lead really seemed in jeopardy.
Their 2.93 staff ERA is the best in the game. They have the No. 1 rotation and No. 3 bullpen.
The Cardinals have continued to evolve. Their veterans—Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, John Lackey—have produced at a high level, but rookies have been worked into the mix, too.
Outfielder Randal Grichuk has played his way into the NL Rookie of the Year conversation, and outfielder Steven Piscotty provided a late-season boost to the offense.
They’ve been numbingly consistent. They’ve had six straight winning months. They’ve had eight winning streaks of at least five games and just one losing streak longer than three. As a franchise, the last losing month was June 2012 (13-14).
Because the Cardinals are the Cardinals, they understand that baseball pushes a reset button for the postseason. Having not won a World Series since 2011 carries a pressure unique to St. Louis.
Molina is hurting. Adams and Holliday are just back. Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha have had a couple of September hiccups. So has the bullpen.
Still, the road to a championship once more will go through St. Louis. The Cardinals are 100-game winners for the first time in a decade and just the ninth time in franchise history.
In that way, this has already been a special season. To get back to the NLCS, they’ll have to play the winner of a Cubs-Pirates Wild Card Game.
Those two teams might represent the most significant obstacle to getting to the World Series. But the Cardinals have held them off this entire season.
if the Cardinals do not win their 20th pennant or 12th World Series, only one thing seems certain. They’ll be right back in contention in 2016. That’s the Cardinal way.