Which Three Years Were Better: 2004-2006 or 2011-2013?

The past 10 seasons are an extraordinarily rich time in St. Louis Cardinals history, as we all know. Seven trips to the postseason, six times in the National League Championship Series, five National League Central titles,  four World Series appearances resulting in two World Championships — obviously a glorious time to be a Cardinals fan.

Yet also two very distinct ways to that success, with the Tony La Russa/Walt Jocketty era reaching its pinnacle in 2004 with its reliance more on veteran acquisitions to make an impact and now the John Mozeliak/Mike Matheny way that’s blossoming with talent developed from within. Which has me wondering: of these past seasons, which three-year stretch was better: 2004-2006 or 2011-2013?

Here’s a refresher on these two championship stretches.

2004-2006

MV32004
Record: 105-57 (best in MLB), finished first in NL Central.

Postseason: Won NLDS 3 games to 1 over Dodgers; won NLCS 4 games to 3 over Astros; lost World Series in sweep by Red Sox.

Top hitters: The MV3 — Albert Pujols .331/.415/.657 with 46 home runs and 123 RBI, WAR of 8.4; Scott Rolen .314/.409/.598 with 34 homers and 124 RBI, WAR of 9.1; Jim Edmonds .301/.418/.643 with 42 homers and 111, WAR of 7.1. Also, Tony Womack hit .307 and had 26 stolen bases. Edgar Renteria hit .287 with 72 RBI and 17 stolen bases.

Team batting average: .278, first in NL.

Team OPS: .804, also first in the NL.

Top starting pitchers: Chris Carpenter, 15-5, 3.46 ERA; Jason Marquis, 15-7, 3.71 ERA; Jeff Suppan, 16-9, 4.16 ERA.

Saves leader: Jason Isringhausen, 47.

Team ERA: 3.75, second in NL (Braves first at 3.74)

Postseason moment to remember: Jim Edmonds 12th inning walk-off home run in Game Six of the NLCS.

Award recognition: The MV3 finished third (Pujols), fourth (Rolen) and fifth (Edmonds) in NL MVP voting. Tony La Russa was second in the NL Manager of the Year race.

2005
Record:
100-62 (best in MLB), first in NL Central.

Postseason: Swept the Padres in NLDS, lost to the Astros in the NLCS 4 games to 2.

Top hitters: Albert Pujols .330/.430/.609 with 41 home runs and 117 RBI, WAR of 8.4; David Eckstein .294/.363/.395 with 61 RBI; Mark Grudzielanek .294/.334/.407 with 59 RBI. Also, Jim Edmonds hit 29 homers and had 89 RBI.

Team batting average: .270, second in the NL.

Team OPS: .762, fifth in the NL.

Top starting pitchers: Chris Carpenter, 21-5, 2.83 ERA; Jeff Suppan, 16-10, 3.57 ERA; Mark Mulder, 16-8, 3.65 ERA.

Saves leader: Jason Isringhausen, 39.

Team ERA: 3.49, first in the NL.

Postseason moment to remember: Albert Pujols’ ninth inning game-winning home run off Brad Lidge in Game Five of the NLCS.

Award recognition: Albert Pujols was NL MVP, Chris Carpenter won the NL Cy Young Award, Tony La Russa finished second for NL Manager of the Year.

2006
Record: 83-78, first in NL Central.

Postseason: Won NLDS 3 games to 1 over Padres; won NLCS 4 games to 3 over Mets; won World Series 3 games to 1 over Tigers.

Top hitters: Albert Pujols .331/.431/.671 with 49 home runs and 137 RBI, WAR of 8.4; Scott Rolen .296/369/.518 with 22 home runs and 95 RBI, WAR of 5.8. Also, Jim Edmonds and Juan Encarnacion each hit 19 homers. Edmonds had 70 RBI, Encarnacion 79.

Team batting average: .263, tied for third in the NL.

Team OPS: .747, sixth in the NL.

Top starting pitchers: Chris Carpenter, 15-8, 3.09 ERA; Jeff Suppan, 12-7, 4.12 ERA. After that, lots of ugly starter ERAs: Anthony Reyes, 5.16; Jeff Weaver, 5.18; Jason Marquis, 6.02; Mark Mulder, 7.14.

Saves leader: Jason Isringhausen, 33. Adam Wainwright also had three, with two coming late in the regular season.

Team ERA: 4.54, ninth in the NL.

Postseason moments to remember: Yadier Molina’s game-winning home run in Game Seven of the NLCS, Adam Wainwright’s called third strike on Carlos Beltran to end that game and clinch the National League pennant.

Award recognition: Albert Pujols finished second in NL MVP and Chris Carpenter finished third in NL Cy Young.

2011-2013

Lance-July 202011
Record: 90-72, second in the NL Central, NL wild card winner.

Postseason: Won NLDS 3 games to 2 over Phillies; won NLCS 4 games to 2 over the Brewers; won the World Series 4 games to 3 over the Rangers.

Top hitters: Yadier Molina .305/.349/.465 with 14 homers and 65 RBI, WAR of 3.0; Lance Berkman .301/.412/.547 with 31 homers and 94 RBI, WAR of 3.7; Albert Pujols .299/.366/.541 with 37 homers and 99 RBI, WAR of 5.4. Also, Matt Holliday had 22 homers and 75 RBI.

Team batting average: .273, first in the NL.

Team OPS: .766, first in the NL.

Top starting pitchers: Kyle Lohse, 14-8, 3.39 ERA; Chris Carpenter, 11-9, 3.45 ERA; Jaime Garcia, 13-7, 3.56 ERA.

Saves leader: Fernando Salas, 24. Jason Motte had nine, starting in late August.

Team ERA: 3.74, eighth in the NL.

Postseason moments to remember: Chris Carpenter’s three-hit shutout over the Phillies to clinch the NLDS, David Freese’s game-tying 9th inning triple and game-winning 11th inning home run in Game Six of the World Series.

Award recognition: Albert Pujols finished fifth and Lance Berkman finished seventh in NL MVP voting, Tony La Russa finished third in NL Manager of the Year voting.

2012
Record: 88-74, second in the NL Central.

Postseason: Won wild card play-in game over Braves; won NLDS over Nationals 3 games to 2; lost NLCS to Giants 4 games to 3.

Top hitters: Yadier Molina .315/.373/.501 with 22 home runs and 76 RBI, WAR of 6.9; Allen Craig .307/.354/.522 with 22 homers and 92 RBI, WAR of 2.3; Matt Holliday .295/.379/.497 with 27 homers and 102 RBI, WAR of 4.0. Carlos Beltran had 32 homers and 97 RBI, David Freese had 20 homers and 79 RBI.

Team batting average: .271, second in NL.

Team OPS: .759, third in NL.

Top starting pitchers: Kyle Lohse, 16-3, 2.86 ERA; Lance Lynn, 18-7, 3.78 ERA; Adam Wainwright, 14-13, 3.94 ERA.

Saves leader: Jason Motte, 42.

Team ERA: 3.71, sixth in the NL.

Postseason moment to remember: Ninth inning comeback in Game Five of NLDS, scoring four runs to win 9-7.

Award recognition: Yadier Molina finished fourth in NL MVP voting, Kyle Lohse finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting, Matt Carpenter finished sixth for NL Rookie of the Year, Mike Matheny finished fifth in NL Manager of the Year voting.

2013
Record: 97-65 (best in MLB), first in NL Central.

Postseason: Won NLDS 3 games to 2 over the Pirates; won NLCS 4 games to 2 over Dodgers; lost World Series to Red Sox 4 games to 2.

Top hitters: Yadier Molina .319/.359/.477 with 12 homers and 80 RBI, WAR of 5.7; Matt Carpenter .318/.392/.481 with 11 homer and 78 RBI, WAR of 6.6; Allen Craig .315/.373/.457 with 13 homers and 97 RBI; Matt Holliday .300/.389/.490 with 22 homers and 94 RBI; Carlos Beltran .296/.339/.491 with 24 homers and 84 RBI.

Team batting average: .269, second in the NL.

Team OPS: .733, second in the NL.

Top starting pitchers: Adam Wainwright, 19-9, 2.94 ERA; Shelby Miller, 15-9, 3.06 ERA; Joe Kelly, 10-5, 2.69 ERA (37 games, 15 starts).

Saves leader: Edward Mujica, 37. Trevor Rosenthal had three in late September.

Team ERA: 3.42, fifth in the NL.

Postseason moment to remember: Michael Wacha’s no-hitter for 7 1/3 innings in Game Four of the NLDS; Allen Craig and the obstruction call in Game Three of the World Series.

Award recognition: Yadier Molina finished third and Matt Carpenter finished fourth in NL MVP voting; Adam Wainwright finished second for the NL Cy Young Award; Shelby Miller was third for NL Rookie of the Year; Mike Matheny was fourth for NL Manager of the Year.

Totals for 2004-2006: 288-195, one World Series championship, three NLCS appearances, three NL Central titles, one MVP, one Cy Young winner.

Totals for 2011-2013: 275-211, one World Series championship, three NLCS appearances, one NL Central title.

Obviously, we have the advantage of knowing the Cardinals have a strong and young current crop of players — it would be nearly impossible to expect a stretch like 2007-2008 coming up in the next two years. With that, what’s your choice for the best recent three years?

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