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.


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.

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So, This Is It.

Fenway awaits. Bring it on, Boston.

Fenway awaits. Bring it on, Boston.

“It starts with Game 6…” Adam Wainwright said, after predicting a “legendary” comeback for his Cardinals.

The team ace and Game 5 starter was certainly not satisfied with his performance in the final game at Busch Stadium. He knew that his leadership could have shifted the series in favor of the Birds. Instead, the offense that has been sputtering came nearly to a stop. (Kind of like the plane the team sat on for roughly six hours yesterday awaiting their takeoff to Boston…)

And with that, it all comes down to this.

…no pressure or anything, guys.

As a Cardinals fan, October baseball is almost expected these days. As a baseball fan, it’s never taken for granted. Continue reading

And Then There Were Two: Cards Face Pirates In NLDS

Pirates vs CardsWith the Pirates handily beating the Reds in last night’s Wild Card game, they are now set to return to face the team that snatched the division title out from underneath them. A team they’ve beaten 10 times this season, including four in a row during one abnormally difficult stretch for the now NLC Champs. The Pirates have been a thorn in the Cardinals’ side all season. And it’s not over yet.

Sure, the Reds would have likely been an easier challenge. They seemed to run out of steam about a a week ago. Not to mention, the Cardinals have fared far better against Cincy than Pittsburgh in 2013. Avoiding the pesky Pirates in another five-game series would have boosted the Cardinals’ chances.

But, as they say, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. And between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati? The best team is headed to St. Louis.

One more time this season, the Cardinals better be doing their homework on the Pirates.

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One More Cardinals Win Means Best Record

With a record of 96-65, the St. Louis Cardinals currently top the National League — thanks to the Philadelphia Phillies hanging on to beat the Atlanta Braves last night.

one-1A Cardinals win today, or a Braves loss, would give the Cards home field advantage throughout the playoffs as well as the wild card winner of either the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds as their division series opponent.

Once again, a magic number of one.

While it seems like Cardinals fans are all for achieving that best record, manager Mike Matheny doesn’t necessarily share that sentiment as Jason Mastrodonato writes at Cardinals.com:

“Maybe I should put more [emphasis on home-field advantage], but I don’t,” Matheny said. “My theory is people start overthinking that and over planning and trying to be a master puppeteer in how that all plays out. I think that stuff comes back and bites you. I think there’s too many good teams in this right now and we got to respect that, respect the game, just like we’ve done all season long and what we do is we go out and set our priorities.

“I made it clear to you guys right now, our priority is getting these guys ready for Thursday. But whenever we walk out there we also don’t want to lose that culture that we developed of going out and maximizing everything we’ve got while we’re out there out. No matter who we put out there, we’re playing to win all the time.”

So, does it look like Mike is saying “take that, everyone complaining about Jake Westbrook starting today”?

Anyway, yesterday’s game was a rather easy 6-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, and it was cruising along as another shutout until the ninth inning.

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Who’s Your Choice For Closer Now?

Click to vote at the bottom of the post!

First, let’s start with the positive: the Cardinals won, the Pirates lost, the division lead is now two with eight games remaining in the regular season.

Getting to that win … yeah.

screen shotNot exactly easy to say “all’s well that ends well” when Edward Mujica melted down yet again and turned a 6-4 Cardinals lead to 6-6 by allowing three hits, a walk and the game-tying runs — all while getting just one out (even though the box score “officially” shows John Axford with the blown save). Mujica’s September ERA (to follow up on what I wrote about yesterday) is now 9.45 and he’s blown three of his last five save chances.

After Carlos Beltran hit a sacrifice fly to put the Cards back on top in the 10th — off former Card Michael Blazek, who was traded for Axford and thus produced this odd notification on my phone once the game ended — it was Carlos Martinez who pitched the bottom of the inning and recorded a 1-2-3 save following a quick talking-to from Yadier Molina after going 2-0 to the first batter he faced.

That was excellent to see. Could he be the new closer? Today’s his 22nd birthday. That would be a nice gift.

Or is it be time for Trevor Rosenthal, who so many have been clamoring for all season?

There also is the option — gulp — of John Axford, who was Matheny’s choice once he removed Mujica.

What do you think? Vote below.

Maybe tonight’s game can be a little less drama-filled … then again, Lance Lynn is starting. He faces Yovani Gallardo starting at 6:05 p.m. Central Time.

Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email aaronmilesfastball@gmail.com. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.

Should We Be Concerned About Rosenthal And Mujica?

With just nine regular season games left and only a one-game lead in the National League Central, we Cardinals fans don’t need a cause for concern. Yet after yesterday’s 15-inning loss to the Rockies — with Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica giving up tying runs in the eighth and ninth innings — do we need to worry about them?

9-20-13Looking at their stats for September, the ERAs for both certainly jump out: 5.00 for Rosenthal and 7.11 for Mujica.Then again, as relievers, those are based on small sample sizes.

The 5 earned runs allowed by Rosenthal in 9 innings pitched this month all came in this Colorado series, with 4 in Monday night’s loss. He’s only allowed 5 hits (also all in Colorado) during those 9 innings, and struck out 14. Opponents are hitting just .161 against him.

Then there’s Mujica. In his 6.1 innings pitched during September, he’s allowed 5 earned runs on 12 hits (including 2 home runs). He has 2 saves. And do you think the opposing team likes seeing him enter the game? They’re hitting .462 off him this month.

As the season has gone on, I’ve noticed more and more fans wanting Matheny to replace Mujica as closer — with Rosenthal. While it’s easy to agree with replacing Mujica, would Rosenthal really be a smart option?

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September Baseball: Emotional, Exhausting, Energizing

If you’re like me, the Cardinals aren’t the only team you’re watching now. With the National League Central race so close and the standings fluctuating daily, my nightly baseball watching has expanded this month since I need to know what the Pirates and the Reds are doing every game too.

9-18-13 1The Cardinals still have my primary attention, of course, and the prime viewing spot on my television. But here’s a picture to show you just how I’ve been watching — with the Pirates game on MLB-TV, sound muted. The Reds game, depending on who they are playing, is either on Gameday on my laptop (like last week when they played the Cubs and Brewers, since I’m in their home market and blacked out on MLB-TV) or on a split-screen with the Pirates.

But it’s September — what else can we do? Besides find ourselves doing the unlikely and rooting for the Cubs and Brewers and Astros to win, anyway.

It’s an emotional roller coaster at times — last night being a prime example.

It’s exhausting on occasion.

Yet it’s also energizing.

And it gets us ready for what’s ahead in October, on a slightly less intense level.

Back to last night …

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All Hail, Matt Carpenter!

In last night’s 12-8 Cardinals victory over the Pirates that pretty much had everything, one player just did what he’s been doing all season: Matt Carpenter.

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Carpenter led off the Cardinals first with a walk, scored on a Carlos Beltran single, tripled in the third, scored on a Jon Jay double, doubled in the seventh — the third of the Cardinals nine consecutive hits for the inning — and scored when Jon Jay singled.

Last night he tied Albert Pujols for the most hits in a season at Busch Stadium III with 98. (Chances are excellent he’ll break it, don’ t you think?) With his double — his 47th of the season — he surpassed Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby for most by a Cardinals second baseman in a season.

Carpenter is hitting .423/.464/.731 in September and has hit in every game this month (plus on Aug. 31, so he has a seven-game hit streak). He had the only Cardinal hits — two — in their 1-0 loss in Cincinnati on Tuesday.

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One Pitch, One Swing, One Big Cardinals Win

Sure, a lot of great things happened in last night’s 8-6 St. Louis Cardinals win over the Cincinnati Reds.

But there’s only one moment you’re still reliving this morning. Only one play you’re talking about with every Cardinals fan you see.

Of course it’s this.

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

What else?

The Reds were up 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh, bases loaded and the only Cardinal you’d want up in that situation coming to the plate — Allen Craig. The man who rules all when there are runners in scoring position.

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The Sweet Relief of a Cardinals Victory

Ah … that Cardinals win felt good, especially going into today’s much-needed off day.

smileyThe Cards wrapped up a 21-games-in-20-straight-days stretch with a 8-4 win over the Cubs — doing what was necessary to get back on track: win one game at a time.

It wasn’t necessarily easy, it wasn’t always pretty and Darwin Barney continued to impersonate Babe Ruth despite the fact his batting average is .215 but the end result was just what the Cardinals needed. Plus Edward Mujica finally got save no. 31 — more than two weeks after getting save 30 on July 25. And he even got to bat!

Several other Cardinals had at-bats that were better and more productive, thankfully. And it all began in the first inning. Three singles, a walk, a sacrifice fly and a stolen base added up to three runs. Offense!

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