October 30, 2006


Ignore the Win Total; Cards Are No Fluke (TIM MARCHMAN, October 30, 2006, NY Sun)

The 2000 Yankees won all of 87 games, which wouldn't have been good even for second place in either the American League Central or the American League West; does anyone think they weren't real champions? Of course not. That team was just one in a line of excellent teams, and some quirks of the way it was constructed made it a more effective team in October than it had been in the regular season. There was some or a lot of luck involved, too, but then there is for every team that wins a World Series.

Like those Yankees, the Cardinals were a better fit for the playoffs than they were for the regular season, largely because two starting pitchers they didn't need in October soaked up a ton of innings in the regular season. Mark Mulder and Jason Marquis were absolutely horrible this year; replace those two with the sort of average pitchers St. Louis is usually able to dig up, and they'd have won their customary 95 or so games. Yes, the Cards were lucky to make the playoffs in the first place, but so were the Yankees in 2000 and plenty of other champions. What matters is how you do once you're there, not how you got there.

The Cardinals team we saw over the last few weeks is the same one we've seen pretty much every year this decade, when they've been on one of the less-remarked upon runs of greatness I can think of. With the exception of this year and 2003, the Cardinals have won between 93 and 105 games every year this decade. In every year save 2003, they've either won the National League pennant or been beaten by the team that did. Short of the Yankees and Braves, no team has had a more successful run in the wild card era.

Because of that, and because this team, built around Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Chris Carpenter, and a set of mix-and-match utility guys, chumps, washouts, rookies, scrubs, and scrappy hustle guys, is exactly the same team that's been winning 95 games a year this decade, it's impossible to see how this team can even enter into the conversation about which team is the most illegitimate champion. This wasn't a one-off fluke, but the crowning and validating achievement of a truly great team that's been truly great since before George W. Bush was in office and will probably continue to be great after he's left office. During nearly all of this time they have had a transcendently great player in Pujols, likely future Hall of Famers in Rolen and Edmonds, several short-term aces like Carpenter and Matt Morris, and a legendary manager in Tony LaRussa, like his style or not (I don't). That isn't the makeup of a team that's going to baffle baseball historians in future decades while they're going through World Series winners trying to pick out the weak ones.

It hardly seems a coincidence that the Tigers and Cards had defensively dominant catchers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 30, 2006 12:06 AM

Rolen and Edmonds are likely future hall-of-famers now? When did this happen?

Posted by: Matt Cohen at October 30, 2006 9:16 AM

Will people ever tire of handing Eck backhanded compliments.

He was the Series MVP for cyin' out loud!

Posted by: Pepys at October 30, 2006 11:34 AM

Reyes was the MVP.

Posted by: oj at October 30, 2006 11:44 AM

Rolen's been a "likely future hall-of-famer" his entire career. I've always thought he was a bit overrated, and he has been incredibly injured during the last several years, but considering Mike Schmidt once said Rolen was better than he was, there's obviously some serious talent there.

Carpenter is the Cardinals, and vice versa. At this point, calling him a "short-term ace" shows the author hasn't been paying attention the last 3 years. He's the guy other teams think they have no chance to beat (apparently in starts this year with extra rest, his ERA was something like 0.95), which adds to their pressure to beat the other guys. His injury in '04 was the reason they felt they had to get Mulder, since it looked like they lacked a real dependable shut-down pitcher.

Posted by: b at October 30, 2006 12:22 PM

Three good years in the bad league is the very definition of a short term ace.

Posted by: oj at October 30, 2006 12:28 PM

I'm assuming this guy is a life-long Card fan. Carpenter pitched 1 of 5 games, Pujois was a non-factor. As for the two "future HoFers," give me a break. Several forgettable pitchers and equally forgettable hitters played over their heads for a week, and were lucky in their opponents. With a years seasoning, the young Tigers wouldn't have thrown every other ball into the stands. Fluke indeed.

Posted by: curt at October 30, 2006 2:56 PM

Live by the sword die by the sword. Mr. Polanco meet Mr. Eckstein. The Tigers played out of their gourds for 2 weeks, took a week off and came back down to earth, and met a team playing out of their heads. Bily Bean had the final word on playoff baseball. It's a crapshoot.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at October 30, 2006 4:19 PM