Regardless of the series outcome, however, the franchise's future is bright. That's largely because it has dominant rookie pitchers under control for years to come, and specifically, two bullpen arms who have excelled on the big stage: Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal.
For those of you who slept through/inexplicably chose not to watch Game 2, a 4-2 Cards victory that evened the Fall Classic at 1-1, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports revisits the penultimate inning of it:
Eighth inning, runner on first with two outs, the left-handed hitting Ortiz set to face the right-handed Martinez. The by-the-book move would have been to summon veteran lefty Randy Choate for the platoon advantage, but Matheny stuck with Martinez, who threw 96 to 98 mph and got two of his three strikeouts on breaking balls.
And MLB.com presents the ninth:
Their combination of triple-digit heat, 1990s birth dates and recent success has the baseball world buzzing:
Back in NJ, afternoon run along the Hudson... Still marveling at how strong #STLcards Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal looked in game 2.— Dan Plesac (@Plesac19) October 25, 2013
Its pretty clear if the Cardinals have a lead after 7 they are in great hands w/young arms like Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal in the pen— Isaac Rodriguez (@isaacfromCT) October 25, 2013
Does the narrative of a pennant winner with standout rookie relief sound familiar to you? It should.
However, we've seldom seen performance of this caliber from major league newbies, much less two such pitchers on the same roster.
Here's how Martinez and Rosenthal stack up against other 21st-century examples of first-year pitchers who were trusted with high-leverage postseason innings:
|Notable Rookie Relievers on MLB Pennant Winners, 2000-2013|
|Carlos Martinez||2013 St. Louis Cardinals||2.79||9.2||9/2|
|Trevor Rosenthal||2013 St. Louis Cardinals||0.00||8.0||12/2|
|Neftali Feliz||2010 Texas Rangers||1.23||7.1||11/5|
|Hideki Okajima||2007 Boston Red Sox||2.45||11.0||11/3|
|Adam Wainwright||2006 St. Louis Cardinals||0.00||9.2||15/2|
|Joel Zumaya||2006 Detroit Tigers||3.00||6.0||6/3|
|Bobby Jenks||2005 Chicago White Sox||2.25||8.0||8/3|
|Francisco Rodriguez||2002 Anaheim Angels||1.93||18.2||28/5|
To be fair, Rosenthal also pitched in the 2012 playoffs when the Cardinals advanced to the NLCS. Because of his limited service time during that regular season, he retained rookie eligibility for another year. Combining his two October experiences, the 23-year-old has pitched 16.2 scoreless innings.
That shouldn't take anything away from what he and Martinez have been accomplishing.
The past two Cardinals opponents, the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, were both significantly more productive off right-handed pitching this season. You wouldn't know it from their recent impotence against this pair. Those offenses have generated a .119 batting average and only one run in 13.2 innings with them on the mound.
Stuff-wise, Francisco Rodriguez and Joel Zumaya used to be electrifying; Hideki Okajima and Adam Wainwright demonstrated awesome command. With that said, Martinez and Rosenthal exceed them all with their ability to combine power and precision.
The question on the mind of every St. Louis fan is whether either of these promising flamethrowers can follow in Wainwright's footsteps. He has blossomed into the club's rotation ace. Waino is likely to finish top three in NL Cy Young Award voting for the third time following a summer in which he led the Senior Circuit in innings pitched.
Martinez's size—6'0", 185 pounds—may prevent him from completing that transition. The Dominican native possesses a plus curveball to complement his fantastic fastball, but his 106 innings pitched this year is already the highest total of his professional career. There's understandably some doubt about his body holding up for 30-plus starts.
Meanwhile, MLB.com's Bernie Pleskoff is of the opinion that Rosenthal should eventually make the leap. His changeup is more refined and his thicker frame dispels any durability concerns.
Regardless of which roles they occupy in 2014 and beyond, the Cardinals should expect effectiveness and a high probability of contending for future champagne celebrations.
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He’s hoping to deepen relationships with his fantastic online audience (that means you) via Twitter.