Why the Cardinals will not win the World Series
Every year the media falls in love with a team or two and for the final month of the season and every sports anchor and pundit spends the rest of the season explaining why said team will win it all.
This year that team is the Cardinals.*
But how many of these bandwagon teams pop champagne in October?
Last year it was Tampa. The upstart Rays did manage to knock off their division rival Red Sox and make it to the Series, but in the end it was the hot team, the Phillies, who walked away with a ring. (other popular picks last year: Cubs, Dodgers)
The prior year the Cubs were the trendy pick. (as they have been seemingly once every three or four years) The northsiders, however, didn't make it to the World Series as the red hot wild card Rockies got on a tear, eventually losing to the Red Sox.
These teams fall into the dangerous "too obvious" pick. They make a move, or the pieces finally come together and all of a sudden my 60 year old aunt who never watched a day of baseball in her life is telling me why the Rays will win it all.
As we've seen come October being hot is just as important as being good.
Why the Cardinals will win the World Series
Still, sometimes everyone is right. The '07 Red Sox were dominate, blowing away the American League on the way to a title. Everyone who wasn't picking the Cubs (and even some of those who were) were taking the Red Sox.
If everyone is latching on to a team, it probably means they have the right pieces to get the job done and this year's Cards are no different.
They have arguably the best 1-2 pitching combination in the league, and undoubtedly the best 1-2-3 with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and the resurrection of Joel Pinero. (a la Jeff Weaver with the '06 World Champion Cardinals. Thank you Dave Duncan)
GM John Mozeliak, with approval from owner Bill DeWitt Jr, made bold moves in acquiring Mark Derosa, Matt Holliday, and the under the radar pick up of the ageless Julio Lugo.
Holliday is the hottest hitter in baseball. Derosa has filled the gaping hole at third and gives Tony LaRussa infinite possibilities in creating a lineup. (and we know how much LaRussa loves that) Lugo has quietly produced offensively and defensively playing both second and short allowing LaRussa to play the percentages and get guys some rest.
The Cardinals match up pretty well with their potential opponents too.
The wild card (who the Cards may draw if they keep winning like this and end up with the best record in the NL) is coming down to the Rockies* and the Giants.
The Rockies have had production up and down their line up and surprising success from starting pitching, (Jason Marquis Ubaldo Jimenez) but don't match up well against the surging Cards. Its hard to imagine the Cards pitchers not shutting down a line up with no real superstar bat. Duncan's insistence on pounding the bottom of the strike zone protects them from the rigors of Coors Field and Matt Holliday playing the team that he lead to the '07 World Series can't hurt either.
The Giants are a little more scary come playoff time. They too are in the discussion of best 1-2 pitching punch with potential back-to-back Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. But their big trade deadline move was getting Ryan Garko and outside of the Kung Fu Panda (Pablo Sandoval) and Bengie Molina their offense is non-existent.
The Cards took four out of six from the former NL favorite Dodgers* and looked good doing it. In fact the Cardinals play against the Dodgers is one reason they're now the popular pick. The Dodgers could still be a scary team come October with Joe Torre at the helm and one of the greatest postseason hitters in history in Manny Ramirez. Still they're young, without a true ace, and a bullpen that has been shaky at best.
Outside of the Matt Holiday deal, the Phillies pulled off the best midseason trade this year in acquiring last year's AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. (The trade looks even better given the recent struggles of Roy Halliday). They've got a potent lineup despite a lack of production from Jimmy Rollins. If Cole Hamels can return to form and pitch anything near his performance last year the Phils have two top line starters. Their glaring weakness is their bullpen. As Brad Lidge continues to struggle (see 2005 against Albert Pujols) the people in Philadelphia get more concerned. Given the abundance of starting pitching, however, the Phillies could move one of them into the closer's role similar to what the Cardinals did with Adam Wainwright in 2006.
Of the potential matchups for the Cards heading into October the reigning champs appear to be the biggest test. Still, with the new-found production the Cardinals could hang offensively and probably have a slightly better rotation. What would put the Cards ahead would be the shut down bullpen. If Carpenter, Wainwright, and Pinero can continue what they've done and turn it over to Smoltz and Franklin at the end of the game it is hard to see anyone beating the Red Birds.
*WRITERS NOTE: ESPN has recently fallen in love with the Rockies. Their current surge is reminicent of their push in '07, though it seems they may be peaking too early. I do believe the Rockies will be there come October it will be as a wild card team and they will not be able to sustain this success.