NLDS 2013: Step-by-Step Guide for St. Louis Cardinals to Win the Series
The Cardinals have been to the World Series in three of the previous nine years and brought home the trophy twice in that span. The team’s most recent postseason berth marks the 10th time since 2000 that the Cardinals have extended their season into October.
On seven of those occasions, the Cardinals have made it past the division series.
They have now won the National League Central division eight times since 2000.
As the Cardinals begin yet another playoff run, it’s time to look back not only at what got them there but at what it will take to keep playing deep into October.
In previous years, they have been able to thank stellar pitching, good clubhouse chemistry and even a gritty Chris Carpenter for pushing them to their true potential.
This year’s team has looked very different. Gone are the mammoth multi-home run games of Albert Pujols and the raw passion of Carpenter on the mound.
The 2013 Cardinals had no 30-home run hitter for the first time since 1995. The times have changed, and this team is playing a different style of baseball.
Can they keep it up for another month? First, they have to fend off the Pittsburgh Pirates who will have a fanbase energized like none we’ve seen in years.
The following are 10 things that need to happen for the Cardinals to win the NLDS and continue pushing toward their 12th World Series.
10. Put Home-Field Advantage to Use (but Continue Being Road Warriors)
The Cardinals have played very well on the road going 43-38 with a .531 winning percentage.
Sure they play better at home, but being able to carry that success on the road with them will go a long way toward making it to the NLCS and eventually another World Series.
To do this, they have to not be intimidated by electric road crowds. It’s worked for the last six months, so it’s definitely possible to keep that road warrior mentality going for a few more weeks.
9. Don’t Overmanage
The biggest issue with manager Mike Matheny's performance in 2013 has been a combination of overmanaging with player loyalty that has at times stretched the boundaries of sensible.
I'm not knocking Matheny because I think his job this season has actually been quite commendable given the amount of youth he has had to work into his lineup.
In October 2012, he was outmanaged by San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy in the NLCS. It's no secret.
With two full seasons of experience and a postseason under his belt, Matheny has begun to come into his own as a manager.
His issues have only been occasional problems just like every other manager deals with. I wouldn't be too quick to correct what is already working.
At this point he just needs to keep doing what he's been doing.
8. Shortstop Needs to Step It Up
The Cardinals have been weak at shortstop this season in every sense of the word.
While it’s been better on defense than offense, neither has given the Cardinals what they truly need from what is arguably the most key defensive position in the infield.
Daniel Descalso has been an upgrade over Kozma, but Descalso's best role for the Cardinals has been as a bench player swapped in for late defense.
With Allen Craig out of the lineup, the team needs offensive production from shortstop to give them a decent threat in the 8- or 9-slot.
They have gotten by without it for the most part this season, but it would be a nice addition for the NLDS and the entire duration of the playoffs.
7. Wainwright Needs to Lead the Pitching Staff
With Chris Carpenter watching from the dugout due to injury, Adam Wainwright is now the sole ace of the Cardinals’ pitching staff.
He needs to own that role going into the postseason.
Wainwright’s chief responsibility—well, aside from one of the nastiest 12-6 curveballs in the game—will be to keep rest of the pitching staff on target.
They all know the final goal, but he will be tasked with keeping them all pointed toward it.
6. Veterans Need to Lead
This team is young—that goes without saying.
With such a lack of postseason experience, the role of the team’s veterans will be extremely valuable. Guys like Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, who have played in many postseasons, need to help the team’s youth keep its focus.
The playoff experience, while amazing, borders on being a circus-like atmosphere. The first-timers will deal with more excitement, attention and media than they have likely seen combined in their careers.
Even some of the youngsters—Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal—got a taste of it last year so this isn’t entirely new to them.
The Cardinals have leaned heavily on their youth this year and would like to be able to continue doing so in October.
5. Bullpen Stability
This season the Cardinals bullpen has been either lights-out or wildly inconsistent.
Fortunately for them, "lights-out" prevailed. It needs to continue in October.
With Trevor Rosenthal settling into the closer role and Carlos Martinez's stock rising rapidly, there is little reason to doubt they will be fine.
Of course, given the lack of experience that's little more than a gut feeling based on recent performance.
If the other arms—Seth Maness, Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate in particular—can keep it up, it's likely the Cardinals could weather a slight bullpen hiccup.
But why take the chance?
4. Youth Has to Stay Focused
The postseason can be a lot to take in for anyone, let alone a 22-year-old young man just getting his first taste of fame and fortune.
For the Cardinals to make it through any level of the postseason, they need these guys to keep things in perspective.
This is a tournament that begins anew in October. It doesn’t matter if a team won 88 games or 108, as of Thursday, they’re all on the same table.
Confidence is good for a young player; cockiness can be a serious problem. So far, none of the Cardinals’ youth have shown any serious issues with that, but it’s definitely something that should be watched closely in the immediate future.
3. Rotation Must Stay Consistent
While the Cardinals rotation has had its high and low points this season, in September it showed signs of getting back into its groove.
In April and May, the Cardinals arguably fielded the best starting staff in baseball (aside from their early bullpen woes). Through the middle of the season, injury and fatigue began to take its toll.
If that routine can carry over into the postseason, the Cardinals will be a tough team to beat in any series.
2. Don’t Give Away Outs
The double play has been rough on the Cardinals in 2013.
A total of 154 gave the Cardinals the second-highest total in all of MLB, with left fielder Matt Holliday accounting for a league-leading (and nearly record-breaking) 31.
Giving away outs is not an option in October. Every at-bat counts, because you are always one out (or two) closer to elimination.
The key will be patience at the plate and not chasing pitches outside of the zone. Quality at-bats are a must for this team to be competitive against other successful teams.
1. Keep Up the RISP Performance
In 2013, the Cardinals smashed, kicked and virtually obliterated all common knowledge regarding batting with runners in scoring position.
Their .330 RISP average is the best since those figures were first recorded 39 seasons ago. All season the baseball world waited for that number to regress to the mean, but it never did.
It carried them to October; now they need that number to carry them through October.
If they keep it up, that's a definite possibility because no other team has been near them in this aspect of the game.
It's the cornerstone of their season—and should be the cornerstone of their postseason tenure.
All stats gathered from Baseball-Reference and current through Oct. 1, 2013.