The St. Louis Cardinals may have the youngest team in the postseason, but that doesn’t mean manager Mike Matheny is concerned about how his players will handle the pressure.
According to Matheny, the key to stability lies in preparation, and his veteran players have been vital in that aspect of the game.
“[The veteran players] started early,” Matheny said prior to Game 1 of the 2013 National League Division Series against the Wild Card Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. “They don't wait until we get here. They start talking about it before the season ends about how to go down the stretch run, how to play when the pressure is turned up, and how that's translated into the postseason. We talk about it in Spring Training."
The Cardinals have a total of eight players who have never experienced the postseason. Of those eight, five are pitchers.
Despite that, Matheny said his team seems to be taking it all in stride.
He said that the reason those players are here to begin with is because they are believed to be ready for the big leagues—even if they did begin the season with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals.
In Matheny’s eyes, that’s a result of quality player development.
“Well, we have had our share of newcomers, no question,” he said. “The first place I always go is to give a lot of thanks to our organization. One, through our scouts and our drafting process of bringing in the right kind of people, and, two, we have to develop them properly.”
He credited that minor league staff with instilling the right values and teaching them what they need to know to succeed.
“They’re not just coming up here and serving some time to fill in for a while, but figuring out how to contribute,” he said.
While playing in the postseason means being thrown into crucial roles, he said it’s nothing they aren’t already prepared to do.
“We've thrown them into some high‑leverage situations, and they've responded,” Matheny said. “So we continue to give them opportunities and they continue to shine. It gives us the ability to let them continue to be a part of this roster right now."
High-leverage situations are exactly what they’re going to be seeing in the coming days (weeks?).
He wants them to handle the pressure, but he also understands the importance of appreciating the experience for what it is and they’ve been told to soak it in while they can.
“It's exciting for these guys who have never been here before,” Matheny said. “It's fun to watch them and realize that this is something that they've worked really hard for and deserve.”
The stability he sees in his players that will allow them to stay focused has everything to do with the “temperature” that the veterans have established in the clubhouse.
The guys who have been there many times—Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter—understand their role.
“That's something that we take a lot of pride in,” Matheny said. “We don't shy away from the topic of how much experience our team has. When you look in that room and you look at the rings that these guys have won, there is a lot of value to what they've learned through the years that have enabled them to gain those championships.
“They set the tone.”
Throughout the MLB postseason, that preparation will be put to the test. They seem to have what it will take to be legitimate contenders, but for that to be the case, the youth will have to show the same maturity it has all season.
All quotes obtained firsthand by the author.