Breeding success a way of life for Cardinals
Fostering environment of preparedness results in club's plentiful Octobers
ST. LOUIS -- You have to like this about the St. Louis Cardinals. They are the epitome of strength and stability, and they are on their fourth closer of the season.
They are an established force -- with two World Series championships in the past seven seasons, and the only National League team to have winning records in the past six seasons. Right, and they have used 20 rookies this season.
As the Redbirds approach the opener of their NL Division Series matchup against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday at Busch Stadium (4 p.m. CT on TBS), there is no doubt that they have more experience at this sort of thing than the Bucs, who are making their first postseason appearance in 21 years.
But the Cards' roster will be dotted with young and relatively inexperienced pitchers in crucial positions: Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness. None of these pitchers has reached age 25. Some of them are closer to teenaged than 25.
The Cardinals, unofficially, will carry 10 rookies on their playoff roster, six of whom will be pitchers. This would be astounding in other circumstances, but it is business as usual for the 2013 St. Louis club. The Cards have depended heavily on rookie pitchers throughout.
When other clubs do this, they are typically referred to as "a work in progress," and their results vary dramatically. When the Cardinals do it, they emerge with the best record in the NL.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was asked Wednesday about this phenomenon, because it qualifies as a phenomenon. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak says that the organization's Minor League coaching and teaching methods leave young players "prepared instead of scared" when they are summoned to the Majors. Matheny, too, gives credit to the Cards' scouting, development system and Minor League coaching.
"I think, really, something different here is just the culture we have with our veteran players," Matheny said. "These guys let them know that they're rookies, but for the most part, they've created an environment where these guys can come in and be successful without any other thoughts except, 'Doing what I need to do to help this club win.' And there is constant teaching going on from our veterans and, obviously, our coaching staff.
"But it's been a good system that gets these guys into a place where they feel like they're ready."
Here's the other thing about the Cardinals: They're finishers. In 2011, they came from way, way off the pace to grab the NL Wild Card spot. In 2012, St. Louis came from behind to grab the newly created second Wild Card spot in the NL. This season, on the way to the NL Central title, the Redbirds won 17 of their last 22 games. Allen Craig, first baseman and leading RBI man, went out with an injury. Now playing first base, batting cleanup and succeeding: Matt Adams, 25, who had 86 big league at-bats before this season.
"You know, we've had some issues also losing some key components, but we've had young guys that have been able to step up and step in," Matheny said. "And, once again, that goes back to a lot of the things that have been done here with our veteran players.
"The run that we made was something that we take a lot of pride in. There was a lot of pressure, especially on a lot of young players that have never been here before. They answered the bell and kept competing."
Adam Wainwright -- the Game 1 starter for the Cards in this NLDS, and a genuine leader on this club -- points to a couple of reliable factors in explaining the consistent late-season success of the Redbirds. In the regular lineup, there are those whose careers were forged in the pressure of that 2011 run that went all the way to a World Series championship.
"I think when you look at the majority of our team lineup, these guys were here in 2011, when we were fighting tooth and nail every single day or on the verge of elimination multiple times and just kept fighting and clawing and finding a way to win," Wainwright said. "Those guys are still in there. They have drawn on those moments in their careers to be able to fulfill that this year, too."
Beyond that, Wainwright says, there is the big intangible: the "Cardinal way."
"This organization kind of feeds that into you; that never-say-die attitude," Wainwright said. "That attitude that when playoff time starts coming around, that's when you play your best ball. When Tony [La Russa] was here, when Red Schoendienst was here, when Whitey [Herzog] was here, that same mentality was transferred.
"So that Cardinal way that everyone's heard about, that we like to talk about so much, that's what brings that on in my mind."
It isn't cheap and easy talk. It isn't mere rhetoric. It is a way of life.
This isn't a push-button operation with the Cardinals, not with the changes and the kids making huge contributions. But in September and October, veterans and kids alike have been making this a Cardinals time of year.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.