As the Cardinals completed their sprint to the finish line of the 2013 season, they showed why they are a perennial playoff team. They got hot at the right time and sprinted to the finish line, and along the way they captured the best record in the National League at 97-65.
With the best record in hand, they will hold home-field advantage in all National League playoff series.
The Cardinals are a dangerous team heading into the playoffs. They have seemingly hit their stride at the right time.
Here are five things to be aware of as the Cardinals get their playoff train rolling.
The Cardinals have had some struggles against all of the teams in the NL playoffs except the Cincinnati Reds.
Here is a breakdown of their record against each club:
- Atlanta Braves - 3 wins, 4 losses
- Cincinnati Reds - 11 wins, 8 losses
- Los Angeles Dodgers - 3 wins, 4 losses
- Pittsburgh Pirates - 9 wins, 10 losses
The Cardinals will take on the winner of the wild-card play-in game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Clearly the Cardinals would prefer to take on the Cincinnati Reds as they played much better against them this season. The Pirates' pitching held the Cardinals to two runs or fewer in eight of the 10 losses the Cards suffered at the hand of the Bucs.
On the other hand, the Cardinals scored five or more runs in nine of their wins against the Reds including games with 13 and 15 runs.
If the Cardinals advance past the NLDS, I don't think there is a preference on facing either the Dodgers or Braves. But let's not get too far ahead; there is business to be taken care of in the NLDS.
Surely one of the reasons the Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran is for his ability to raise his game come October. Okay, maybe not, but the fact is that Carlos Beltran becomes a force when he plays in the postseason.
Beltran owns a .363 batting average with 14 home runs and 25 RBI in 34 career postseason games. Cardinal fans remember Beltran very clearly when he owned the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS as a member of the Astros.
Beltran batted .417 with four home runs, five RBI and eight walks in that NLCS, and every Cardinals fan and player cringed when he came to the plate.
Hopefully Beltran will turn into the monster of past Octobers and lead the Cardinals to victory.
Like it or not, the Cardinals will have plenty of rookies on the roster for the postseason. The Cardinals played 20 rookies in the 2013 season.
The vast majority of the rookies were pitchers, and most had a very positive impact. For the Cardinals to have success in the playoffs, they will need continued excellence from the likes of Shelby Miller, Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness and Michael Wacha.
Trevor Rosenthal technically counts as a rookie, but he does have some postseason experience from last season, which will come in handy as the Cardinals make their playoff run.
Shelby Miller pitched very well down the stretch, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.76 ERA in September. He will need to keep up that type of pitching for the Cardinals to have an extended run in October. As a bonus, Miller also has some postseason experience, pitching in the NLCS for the Cardinals last season.
It'll be interesting to see where Wacha ends up on the roster, but after his near no-hitter to end his 2013 season, surely he'll find a spot on the 25-man playoff roster.
With all these rookies and their live arms, the Cardinals should be well stocked for the postseason run.
Following the trends of the 2013 season, the Cardinals need to score first and need to score more than three runs.
In 2013, the Cardinals posted a 73-24 record when scoring first. Additionally, when the Cardinals scored three or more runs, they have a record of 83-14. This is certainly not a team that lives and dies on the three-run home run, so they are going to have to hit when runners get into scoring position.
If the Cardinals can keep doing what they do best, which is hit with runners in scoring position, they should be in all the games they play in October.
One thing a player who comes to St. Louis can expect is to play in the postseason. The Cardinals have been to the playoffs 10 out of the last 14 seasons including 2013.
All eight regular position players on this year's squad were on the 2012 team that lost in the NLCS last season. However, with Allen Craig out for at least the NLDS, the Cardinals are relying on Matt Adams' first trip to the postseason to be a good one.
It's nice to have a roster with so much postseason experience that youngsters such as Adams can rely on the veterans for help, as well as to see what is expected of a Cardinal during playoff baseball.
To go along with all that postseason experience, the Cardinals have guys who have won it all and know what it takes to play deep into October. There are a number of guys on this team with World Series experience from the 2011 World Series championship team and even two players who won the World Series back in 2006 (Wainwright and Molina).
Winning is expected in St. Louis, and the Cardinals know how to do it.