Michael Wacha fires home in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.
The St. Louis Cardinals aren't the New York Yankees. Instead of pinstripes, the Cardinals work well with a clean, fresh look. Instead of having numerous veterans past their prime, the Cardinals fill the gap with youth, which has led to a big October for the men wearing the birds on the bat.
The Cardinals used 20 rookies, including 12 rookie pitchers during the 2013 regular season. They are the youngest team of the remaining four in baseball’s postseason tournament.
The difference between the Cardinals and other organizations is simple; the Cardinals have endless amounts of homegrown talent—power bats capable of wrinkling the beards of opposing pitchers and explosive arms that make opposing hitters’ bats shatter.
First, the rotation and bullpen.
The Cardinals boast two former first-round picks in their starting five, rookie Michael Wacha (19th overall, 2013) and Shelby Miller (19th overall, 2009).
Miller has yet to make a start this postseason, but not because of a lack of confidence from his manager. Rather, the Cardinals have only needed four starters thus far. The trend will likely continue if they reach the World Series.
On the other hand, Wacha, this year’s compensation pick from the Los Angeles Angels following the departure of Albert Pujols, has been nothing short of stellar.
The former Texas A&M product is 2-0 this postseason. In 14 innings, the right-hander has allowed one earned run off six hits and has struck out 17.
One of Wacha’s shining moments came in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Pirates when he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning before surrendering a one-out home run to Pedro Alvarez. Wacha got the win to even the series and force a pivotal Game 5 which the Cardinals won to advance to the NLCS.
Wacha’s second memorable moment came in Game 2 of the NLCS. Pitching with a 1-0 lead, the 22-year-old righty was in a jam with one out and the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning. Yasiel Puig came to the plate. Wacha didn’t back down. He struck out Puig and Juan Uribe out to end the threat.
Joe Kelly has also been an anchor in the Cardinals’ rotation. The right-hander has made two starts this postseason, allowing just four earned runs in over 11 innings of work.
How about the Cardinals’ bullpen?
Cardinals’ relievers boast the second-best earned run average (1.44) of the three other remaining teams in the playoffs. Only Boston has a lower bullpen ERA (0.93). Moreover, only the Dodgers have worked more innings (26.1) than the Cardinals (25). Most importantly, the opposition is managing a minuscule .190 batting average against Cardinals relievers.
Those relievers include Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal. All of which are 25 or younger and are pitching in the biggest games of their short-lived careers.
What about rookie Matt Adams?
“Big City” has done a tremendous job filling in for the injured Allen Craig. Though, Adams has struggled in the NLCS (1 for 15), the 25-year-old left-handed slugger went 6-for-19 with a home run, two RBI and three runs scored in the NLDS against the Pirates.
Defensively, the Cardinals boast two middle infielders who lack experience, but not determination and shear talent.
Second baseman Matt Carpenter and shortstop Pete Kozma have flashed their gloves, but have also committed critical errors. However, the bright spots outweigh the blunders.
Carpenter is arguably the best leadoff man in baseball. “Clutch” should be his middle name. In Game 4 of the NLCS, Carpenter roped an RBI double to left-center to put the Cardinals ahead 1-0 in the top of the third inning.
Kozma, not known for his bat, has been a cornerstone at shortstop. With one out in the bottom of the sixth in Game 4 of the NLCS, Uribe lined a one-hopper to Kozma, who ran to his right, pivoted and fired to Carpenter at second to start the 6-4-3 inning-ending double play.
The Cardinals don’t resemble the Yankees, who throw wads of cash at washed up veterans. They don’t make trades that go sour. They invest in their organization by drafting and developing players into future stars.
Look no further than October.