In 2006, the Cardinals stumbled into the playoffs having won only 83 games. Then they shocked the country and won their first World Series in 24 years. Can they replicate that magic this year?
People have often compared this team to the team from 2011. But I disagree. The championship team that this year’s Cardinals remind me of is the team from 2006. And we all know how well that season ended.
In 2004, the Cardinals cruised to 105 wins, touting an All-Star roster that no other team could compete with. From Albert Pujols to Jim Edmonds to the unbelievable pitching staff, the Cards entered the playoffs, and, thanks to some NLCS heroics, reached the World Series where they were finally slowed by the red-hot Red Sox, fresh off an epic comeback in their League Championship Series.
Still, the team remained relatively intact, and the Cardinals followed up their 2004 campaign with another 100-win season; this time they were stopped in the NLCS. And finally, in 2006, with the weakest roster of the three, won the World Series after barely squeaking into the playoffs.
The dynasty of that Cardinals team seemingly ended after that World Series. Aging veterans handed over the reigns to the younger players, and the team missed the playoffs in both 2007 and 2008. The young stars from that Cardinals dynasty began this current dynasty in, seemingly 2011, but I would argue earlier than that, in 2009, when a revamped Cardinals roster made the playoffs for the first time since their championship.
The difference, however, between the Cardinals team of the mid-2000s and the Cardinals team of the 2010s, however, is that the young stars have been more effective earlier on, giving Cardinals fans hope that these years of excellence will continue.
This 2016 team is a team of two generations. As Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina age, Aledmys Diaz, Carlos Martinez, and Stephen Piscotty have started their young careers with a bang. It seems like the Cardinals’ young talents have always been able to have success when they are called upon, but this year they have had to carry this team due to Holliday’s injuries and Wainwright’s step down from ace status.
This season has very much signaled that the Cardinals must make this generational transition sooner rather than later. That does not mean that this year is lost, however. The 2006 team faced very similar realities, and we all know how that season turned out.
This team doesn't deserve to be in the postseason, but neither did the teams in 2006 or 2011. Anything can happen.
— Total Cardinals Move (@Total_CardsMove) September 29, 2016
If the Cards can sneak into the playoffs, it is an entirely new season. As I stated in my previous article, in a one-game playoff the Cardinals should call upon Carlos Martinez. In this best case scenario, Carlos Martinez dominates, and the offense is able to hit a couple homers off Syndergaard or Bumgarner, and the team cruises to the NLDS to face off against their divisional rival in the Cubs. Against the Cubs, the intense media scrutiny slows down the best team in baseball, and the Cardinals squeak by the Cubs, where they face likely the Nationals. In that series, the Cardinals are able to use the long ball enough to advance to the World Series. In the World Series they face a quality AL team, and are able to claim their 12th championship.
Several things must first happen for this dream scenario. First and most obviously, the Cards must actually make the playoffs, which is far from a guarantee at this point. Secondly, the team must be able to rely on pitchers like Adam Wainwright to enjoy career resurgences. If the team cannot rely on Wainwright, I do not think that this team could make a postseason run.
Finally, this all-or-nothing offense must become more consistent. The Cardinals have had playoff success in the past through clutch hitting, and the team has been relatively bad at that this year. Also, players must reach base much more frequently, a two or three run homer is much more effective than a solo shot.
The Cardinals have the pieces for a playoff run. They have under performed this season, and if their veterans are able to play like they did five years ago, we’ll finally see what this team is capable of.
Photo Credit: USA Today Jeff Curry