The undertaking of qualifying for the MLB playoffs hasn’t been much of a problem for the St. Louis Cardinals. Since the start of the 2000 campaign, they’re about as good as it gets, making it to the annual postseason tournament 16 times over the last 23 years, second in the majors to the Yankees (19) and the most by National League franchise over that time.
There’s a flagrant problem: the Cardinals have lost their way in October, losing 15 of their last 20 postseason games. The skid started when the Giants all but shoved the Cardinals into McCovey Cove by winning three consecutive games to close out the 2014 NLCS.
Since the outset of the 2015 playoffs the Cardinals have lost three of four postseason series and the 2021 NL wild card. Their record over that time is 5-12.
To sharpen the perspective on this ugly trend for St. Louis, consider this: since the the 2014 playoffs got underway, the Kansas City Royals have 22 postseason victories. And the Cardinals have nine. Plus 17 losses.
This is not acceptable.
This cannot go on.
The Philadelphia Phillies are in town and hope to make quick work of the Cardinals. The best-of-three playoff series opens at Busch Stadium on Friday afternoon at 1:07 p.m.
No doubt about it, all of the pressure is on St. Louis in this one. Here are five reasons why:
1. To repeat: it’s imperative for the Cardinals to reverse the trend and stop getting embarrassed by another sad sequence of dreadful postseason performances.
2. Every game in this series will be played at Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals went 53-28 (.654). The Phillies were a losing team (40-41) on the road this season. The home team can’t squander their legitimate advantage.
3. The Cardinals are a division winner. The Phillies are not. The Cardinals have won more regular-season games than Phils. The Cardinals had the comfort of playing in a terrible division, a luxury that wasn’t possible for the Phillies on the mean streets of the NL East. But that’s why the Cardinals have to win this. If they’re dumped by the Phillies in the first round, the heckling and laughter and ridicule will begin. It will go something like this: How about the Cardinals? They made it to the postseason by beating up on horrendous teams. They weren’t that good. They’ve been exposed as a lucky team that was pretty mediocre outside their garbage-dump division. Well … it’s true: 41 percent of the Cards’ total victories were bagged against the 100-loss Pirates, the 100-loss Reds, and the 88-loss Cubs. In fact, 53.7 percent of STL’s victories this season were collected during beatdowns of opponents with losing records. The Cardinals can hush some of the criticism by defeating the Phillies.
4. The Cards have two MVP candidates in Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, who ranked second and third respectively in the NL for most Wins Above Replacement. The Cardinals have the living, thriving, walloping legend that is Albert Pujols. They have an improved pitching staff that largely was transformed by trades for starters Jose Quintana and Jordan Montgomery. After the deals were made, the Cardinals went on a 27-8 run to take authoritative control of the NL Central.
5. Lastly – but more powerful than anything mentioned in this column – the Cardinals have told us all season that they are playing for Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. Teammates are determined to cap a wonderful Farewell Season by winning a World Series title for three icons. It’s not just Pujols and Molina; Adam Wainwright may decide to retire after the season.
“You just don’t want to let them down, in a sense,” Arenado told reporters recently. “The goal is to send them off the right way.”
Speaking to Travis Sawchik, who covers baseball for TheScore.com, rookie Brendan Donovan expanded on Arenado’s thoughts.
“I’ve seen stuff I’m never going to see again, and this being my first year,” Donovan said. “Who was it that said, ‘How can you not be romantic about baseball?’ Sitting in the dugout watching these things happen … it gives you a little extra motivation. We want to give them the right send-off. All great teams want to win for each other.”
The Cardinals have so much on the line.
So, so much on the line.
Yes, they do want to win for each other. The Cards have a positive, happy clubhouse where winning is everything. Yes, it’s been a really good season to this point. Yes, they can defend their honor as NL Central champs by liquidating the Phillies. Yes, the 2022 Cardinals can lift this franchise back to higher ground in the postseason. Yes, they can maximize the stellar seasons that Goldschmidt and Arenado have provided. Yes, they can win for Pujols, for Molina, and Wainwright – and go all the way in a dreamscape October.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.