Sports dynasties and classic teams are judged by their performances in the postseason. And with that being the case, the St. Louis Cardinals are slowly becoming the team of the 21st Century by being just good enough in the regular season and getting hot in the postseason.
Teams with great regular season records are quickly forgotten by history if they do not have the aura of a championship behind it.
Chances are any recollection of the Bobby Cox Atlanta Braves years would focus on either their startling 1991 pennant or the 1995 World Series title. Does anyone remember the 1998 Braves team that had more wins than any team in franchise history?
Does anyone recall the 101 wins that the 2002 and 2003 Braves piled up? Probably not. The '98 squad lost the NLCS to the Padres and the '02 and '03 teams couldn't get out of the Division Series.
Will the 2008 Angels ever be remembered as their greatest team? Or the 1998 and 1999 Astros being their greatest? The Phillies' only 100-win seasons came in 1976, 1977 and 2011—all years that featured early exists.
Likewise, World Series champions are elevated in esteem over superior regular seasons. The Yankees barely made the playoffs with 87 wins in 2000, but they won the World Series that year.
The Phillies won the World Series in 1980 and 2008. The cores of those teams had several other superior regular seasons, but ask Phillies fans which years they remember.
Keeping this elevation of October in mind, the St. Louis Cardinals are putting together a 21st century to which only the Yankees can compare. And another title could put them in the lead 13 percent of the way through this century.
Since the beginning of the 2000 season, the Cardinals have made nine trips to the postseason, winning seven Division Series, getting to three World Series and winning the 2006 and 2011 titles.
They have matched the Yankees in Division Series and World Series won in that same period of time. A pennant against the Giants this year would match New York's World Series appearances for the century at four.
So history will look at the Cardinals as the dominant team of the National League.
How dominant have they been in the regular season? They have won 100 games twice since 2000. One was the 2004 National League Championship season. The other was the 2005 season in which they were knocked out by the Astros.
They had one losing season, the disappointing 2007 campaign. The second-worst season of the decade was the year before when they only won 83 games.
That would be 2006, the year the Cardinals finished barely over .500 and won the World Series.
They have had seven 90-win seasons. 2012 is not one of them, yet they have wrestled home-field advantage away from the Giants this year in the NLCS.
In 2006, 2011 and this season they got in by the skin of their teeth only to rampage through the playoffs.
The regular season might not be filled with many highlights, but moments like Scott Rolen's homer off of Roger Clemens in 2004, Pujols' shot against Lidge in 2005, Wainwright striking out Beltran in 2006 and the down-to-the-last-strike comebacks against Texas and Washington fill up the highlight reels in October.
The Cardinals have shown time and again with changing casts that they can take on difficult odds and upset teams that are seemingly superior.
While many teams with better regular season records than the Cardinals have been pushed into historical obscurity, St. Louis has built an unconventional dynasty.