MLB Playoffs 2011: 5 Most Valuable St. Louis Cardinals This Postseason
Whether the St. Louis Cardinals win to extend their season one final game, or end up losing the World Series to the Texas Rangers in Game 6, they’ve had a tremendous postseason this year. Upon surprisingly reaching the playoffs as the National League’s miraculous Wild Card, St. Louis has continued to defy the critics all the way through the postseason.
In the National League Divisional Series, St. Louis slew the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies, conquering the team with the league’s best record. Next, the Cards faced the upstart and powerful Milwaukee Brewers, in the NLCS. St. Louis outslugged and outmatched their Central Division rivals, who were a little too inexperienced in the spotlight.
Now the stage is set during a remarkably entertaining World Series, as the Cards have been pushed to the brink, required now to win the last two games in a row in order to win another title. Whatever happens, though, it’s been a great ride so far, with plenty of excitement and outstanding performances from many Cardinals players.
Here’s a look at the five best St. Louis Cardinals this postseason.
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The recently named National League’s Comeback Player of the Year, Lance Berkman has been invaluable to the St. Louis Cardinals during the offseason, as well as the playoffs. And he’s shown that he’s their most valuable player with his all-around abilities both offensively and on defense.
Berkman’s true importance can be measured in the field. During the first two games of the NLDS, when starting left fielder Matt Holliday was nursing an injury, it was Berkman who filled in. Thankfully for the Cards, having Berkman’s experience in the outfield saved them from making any drastic changes to their lineup. He has played two outfield positions, pinch-hit and served as the designated hitter during the World Series. Berkman’s versatility has allowed St. Louis to continue to have a veteran power hitter provide some form of protection batting behind Albert Pujols.
Though Berkman’s numbers are mind-boggling, the switch-hitter has batted .286 so far, with eight RBI and 11 runs scored during the Cardinals’ playoff run. More impressive: Berkman has two stolen bases this October—as many as he had all season.
That fleet footedness gets him on this list.
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David Freese has been on fire all postseason.
Now established as the everyday third baseman, Freese’s all-around prowess has been on display during these playoffs. As a result, he has become the Cards’ unsung—and unexpected—hero. He’s delivered key hits and had monstrous games, culminating in his being named MVP of the National League Championship Series, during which he batted .545 with three home runs, nine runs-batted-in and seven runs scored in six games.
But Freese wasn’t just incredible during the championship series—he has been the Cardinals’ most consistent hitter throughout the playoffs. His 13-game postseason hitting streak—snapped in Game 4 of the World Series—set a franchise record. Remember that St. Louis is a storied franchise that has appeared in the MLB playoffs 24 times, producing 18 World Series appearances.
It could be argued that Freese’s bat has been more valuable for St. Louis than even Albert Pujols’s. Without Freese’s hot offensive production, who knows where the Cards would be?
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The Cardinals’ closer—finisher—has performed admirably this postseason. In 9.1 innings pitched, Jason Motte has a 0.96 ERA and allowed only three hits. He has five saves in 10 playoff appearances. But most impressive are his multiple appearances in the playoffs where he has had to pitch more than one inning. On three separate occasions, Motte has bottled up opponents for a four-out save.
Though Motte may be remembered for his ninth-inning blown save in Game 2 of the World Series, his performance throughout the playoffs has been dominant otherwise, and incredibly valuable for the Cardinals. Before his Game 2 loss, Motte had retired 22 consecutive batters this postseason. Quite remarkable for the 29-year-old, who only had nine saves the entire season.
Without Motte, the Cards would be in a bind, considering their frequency of low-scoring tight ballgames. His steadiness and lights-out pitching makes him an important piece of the Cardinals’ World Series title hopes.
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Now, Chris Carpenter has certainly put up better numbers in his career and in different postseasons. He’s had more memorable performances in more significant games. But without their ace starter, the Cardinals would not have made it out of the first round of these playoffs.
The 36-year-old right-hander threw a masterpiece against the Philadelphia Phillies in the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS. His three-hit, 1-0 shutout was one of the most scintillating pitching performances in recent memory. And that Carpenter sawed off the vaunted Phillies lineup, going up against one of the most dominant pitchers in the past decade in Roy Halladay, cemented his place in Cardinals lore.
To be sure, Carpenter has not put up the most dazzling stats throughout these playoffs. His 3.30 ERA and 1.78 K/BB ratio are not superior and show that he hasn’t had tremendous control on a consistent basis during October. But St. Louis would not have any other pitcher on the mound for them when the stakes are at their highest. And with the extra day of rest, Carpenter could very well pitch Game 7 of the World Series—the stakes don’t get any higher.
Afer all, a pitcher is considered to be the best when he goes out and finds a way to win despite not having his most quality stuff. That’s what makes this ace better than all other Cards.
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What more can be said about the greatness of Albert Pujols? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
The greatest right-handed hitter of this generation, Pujols keeps adding more accolades and mystique to his sure-fire Hall-of-Fame resume.
But what’s most impressive about Pujols is his ability to rise to the occasion when the doubters whisper about his inconsistency or question his fortitude.
In the NLCS versus the Milwaukee Brewers, Pujols responded to a 1-for-4 showing in Game 1 with four hits and five RBI and 10 total bases in Game 2. He willed his team to find their way offensively, and from there they took care of the Brew Crew despite not having home-field advantage. For that round of the playoffs, Pujols’ numbers were off the charts: .478 batting average, .556 on-base percentage and a gaudy .913 slugging percentage.
Then, in the World Series, when critics lamented his media session, or lack thereof, following a Game 2 loss in which his fielding error cost the Cards a run, Pujols responded in Game 3 with the most dominant offensive performance in playoff history—three home runs, six RBI and four runs scored.
Now, Pujols and the Cards have their backs against the wall, facing at most two elimination games in order to win another World Series title. Aside from his Game 3 outburst, Pujols has gone hitless the rest of the Series. Can he carry his team to the championship?
We will find out.
But let’s admit, if anybody can do it, Pujols can. After all, he is the king of the Cards.