Having grown up in St. Louis until I was 21, it’s all too easy to predict that my preference in this year’s World Series would be the Cardinals. You would obviously be correct. However, allow me to break down four reasons why I’m rooting for the Birds-On-Bat, removing the “homer” aspect from the equation.
DURABILITY: At the conclusion of the 2011 season and the winning of the franchise’s 11th championship, the Cardinals lost three major components of their foundation. Legendary manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan departed the team, with perhaps the biggest shock wave around the city being felt by Cardinal Nation’s second son, Albert Pujols, taking his talents to the west coast. There were other members of the 2011 Cardinals who would not return to the team for 2012, but none bigger than the above-mentioned. They played out the 2012 season without those key elements, and still came within one game of playing in the World Series. The Cardinals have remained consistent througout 2013 even while suffering through various injuries, which takes me to keypoint #2…
ROOKIES: This team would not have come anywhere close to the accomplishments and the success they’ve had this year without a slew of rookies – especially within the pitching staff. Guys like Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Tyler Lyons, Michael Blazek, Seth Maness, and the NLCS MVP Michael Wacha. The number of innings this group has accumulated is impressive. Miller put up a 15-9 record during the regular season. Wacha was one out away from a no-hitter, and took another no-hitter deep into the 7th inning. Rosenthal has stepped up big in the closer scenario that was previously being worked by Edward Mujica (who had filled in for the injured Jason Motte). Without this group, the Cardinals are nowhere close to a wild card spot, much less winning the division.
MR. OCTOBER: The greatest player to shine in the postseason without ever having had the chance to shine in the big one goes by the name of Carlos Beltran. This is a big kicker here around the Kansas City baseball and sports market, as Beltran established his early career here before departing for greener pastures (as the Royals have a history of allowing). He is still revered in this city, as he receives reliable applause anytime the Cardinals come to town to play against the Royals and Carlos is announced for an at-bat. In his four League Championship Series appearances, his lowest batting average is .286, and that’s in the series that St. Louis just wrapped up against the Dodgers, where he was in high contention for series MVP (which went to rookie pitcher Michael Wacha). The 8-time All Star, 3-time Gold Glove winner, and 2-time Silver Slugger winner finally gets his opportunity to have the spotlight on him on baseball’s grandest stage. If St. Louis should go on to win this World Series, I would not be surprised one bit to hear Beltran announce his retirement from the game after nearly a decade and a half in the majors. A World Series ring is really the only accomplishment he hasn’t yet achieved.
SPIRIT: The Cardinals had their gimmicks for their two prior World Series appearances. In 2006 it was the Scott Spiezio red soul patches (on a side note, I miss Spiezio, and I hope he has his life together). In 2011 it was the Rally Squirrel. There are no cheesy gimmicks for 2013’s team. If anything, they’re playing for a spirit. This is the first season, and subsequently the first postseason appearance and first World Series appearance, since the passing of the franchise’s icon, Stan Musial. His number has adorned center field at Busch Stadium, and has been worn prominently on the team’s jerseys this year. If the team is playing for any sort of a higher purpose, it’s to honor “The Man”.
My prediction: Much like ESPN’s Jayson Stark, I’m going for St. Louis in 6 games. 6 is a serious number.