The 2011 MLB playoffs have moved onto the championship series, leaving a mere four teams left to compete for the a trip to the World Series. With high-priced teams like the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies knocked out of the playoffs, casual fans may struggle to find a team to root for.
As the pressure builds up in these best-of-seven series, so does the excitement, the intensity and the joy.
For those 26 teams that are no longer playing, 26 baseball cities and 26 fan bases who still want to cheer on the glory and prestige of the MLB playoffs, here's five reasons to tune into the St. Louis Cardinals this postseason.
Deep in the center of the United States resides an organization that has been in existence since the 1880s; a team that has won the second most World Series titles, 10, in MLB history, a storied franchise in their own right that deserves as much fan adoration as any other in baseball.
The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the most accomplished and successful clubs in all of baseball, reason enough for fans to respectfully revere them. However, it’s the connectivity to the American heartland that truly draws a following from much of the U.S.
For several decades, the Cards were the westernmost ballclub—major professional sport team for that matter—in the country.
Outside of the major East Coast megalopolises of New York and Boston, the St. Louis franchise represented the hard-working, more industrial populace of the Midwestern United States—and also the states of the South and Great Plains.
There was a comfort and familiarity with the team and the hard-nosed Hall-of-Fame players who came through the organization.
In a way, St. Louis’s geographical centering allowed baseball to be truly woven into the fabric of their daily lives. Not in the way that it developed into a more corporate form of entertainment like it was in New York or Chicago, and eventually on the West Coast.
Sports are more of a marketable business in the bigger cities. But in regions all around St. Louis, baseball is truly where America’s pastime came to be defined and refined, enjoyed by everyone.
St. Louis represent Middle America, and that is why much of the U.S. reveres them. The Cardinals franchise has historically played baseball with passion, for the love of the game. And their fans respect and appreciate that, watching and cheering them on—win or lose—for the love of the game.
Over the past several years, the Philadelphia Phillies have been considered to be the New York Yankees of the National League, having acquired a number of high-profile players—either through out-purchasing of free agents, or out-dealing in trades.
They have the four-ace pitching staff of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. They have the most feared lineup up and down in the National League, an All-Star firing squad that includes Shane Victorino, Jimmy, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Hunter Pence.
Their freewheeling dealings have come to be envied throughout the league, and with that jealousy comes a little bit of hatred among fans. Most casual observers despise teams that wield their wallets as builders of a championship.
So when the Cardinals beat the Phillies in this year’s NLDS, behind Chis Carpenter's game for the ages, there was much jubilation from around the league.
The Cards, who almost miraculously made their way into the playoffs on the season’s last day, beat the Phils, the 102-win powerhouse, advancing to the league championship series.
For baseball fans who dislike those teams that make it rain in the offseason by showering players hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s a relief to see the underdogs advance in the playoffs. In the end, money can’t buy you wins.
While the Cardinals have spent their fair share on their players—they have the 11th highest payroll in MLB this season—many baseball fans are glad to see the money bags of the Phillies out of the postseason.
Love him or hate him, Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is considered to be one of the most innovative and imaginative in the history of MLB. Moreover, LaRussa is a proven winner, earning World Series titles in both leagues, one of only two men in history to have done so.
The four-time Manager of the Year is a marvelous contributor to the game and one of the most enjoyable to play for, as he continuously defends and sticks up for his players, often getting himself criticized or fined in the process.
What makes Cardinals games so fun to watch, however, is the fact that LaRussa is so unpredictable. His unorthodox lineups, stratagems and bullpen calls can all be wondered about and second-guessed at any point in a game, any game in a series. But through it all, there is no question that LaRussa makes these decisions in order to win.
There are very few instances in a baseball game where a manager has a true impact on the outcome, as he cannot control a pitcher’s command, which pitches hitters will swing at and how players field and throw. What he can do is affect the game with minor nuances of how the game is being called, when to hit-and-run and matchups that are in his favor. And, LaRussa is renowned for having thumbprint on the every aspect of a baseball game.
This year has been no different, as the Cardinals overcame some unlikely odds, overcoming injuries and clubhouse friction to take the NL wild card on the season’s last day.
You can never count a LaRussa-led team out, and the Cards’ earned the respect of the league by how they made it to the playoffs.
While LaRussa has already cemented his legacy as one of the greatest managers in the last 30 years, he can build his case to as one of the winningest of all-time with another World Series run in 2011.
Be sure to watch closely, because with LaRussa, you never know what you’re gonna get when watching his teams.
When deciding where he wanted to sign as a free agent last season, Lance Berkman was coveted by several teams. However, Berkman chose the St. Louis Cardinals because he wanted to be a part of a venerable baseball organization and wanted to contend for a championship.
Well he certainly may get his wish on both accounts.
Surprising many, Berkman put up some gaudy numbers, posting 31 home runs with 91 runs batted in and a .967 OPS. Moreover, he proved to be the team’s most valuable player, filling in at first base when St. Louis god, Albert Pujols, went down for three weeks with a wrist injury.
After a tortuous stint with the New York Yankees last year, nobody expected Berkman to contribute heavily, let alone be the force that he had been in the early 2000s. However, the 35-year-old front-runner for the National League comeback player of the year has definitely revitalized his career—lengthened it, in fact—with the Cardinals this season.
This year is his chance for redemption.
As one of baseball’s more likeable players, it’d be nice to see Berkman cap off a comeback season with World Series title.
Eleven straight seasons with 30-plus home runs. For his career, 445 home runs and 455 doubles.
When it’s all said and done, Albert Pujols will be on the same level as Babe Ruth—maybe even past him. Pujols already has the stats, the league MVPs and the prodigal home runs.
At only 31 years of age, Pujols currently ranks in the top 90 in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. With at a minimum of nine more seasons until he turns 40, Pujols will stand among the greatest of the greats in baseball history.
Think of it: This season he posted a .299 batting average, 99 RBI and a .906 OPS. Those were career worst numbers. Players dream of putting up those stats, and Pujols missed 15 games this season.
But, as a free agent this upcoming offseason, there is speculation whether this will be the last opportunity to see Pujols in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. So for Cards fans, they want to squeeze every last drop of supremacy out of Pujols, and a World Series title would be the icing on the cake.
Pujols is one of the clutchest performers in the game today. And when healthy, he is the most indomitable forces the sport has ever seen. In this year’s NLDS against the Phillies, Pujols batted .350 with a .909 OPS against the one of the best starting rotations in baseball history.
Having already won a World Series with the Cardinals back in 2006, Pujols looks to add to his illustrious hardware. And as the most dynamic player in the game today, he would cement himself as one of the greatest players to ever play the game.