It seems like just yesterday that the all of the baseball experts were handing out their predictions for the 2009 campaign. You remember, the guys that said the Cubs would battle the Brewers for the NL Central crown just like they did in 2008.
Many predicted that because they had better starting pitching, Chicago would end up pulling away late but Milwaukee would likely be the top contender for the Wild Card spot. Fast forward to six months later (ie. now) and those same guys are now singing the praises of the best team in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals. And although I’m not a big fan of the flip-flopping going on and all the Cardinals bandwagon jumping, they are the best team going so they did get it right, eventually.
Not sure how almost everybody forgot about the Cardinals, but I seem to remember several so-called “experts” predicting the Brewers, Cubs and even the Astros would finish ahead of St. Louis. Fueled by the best starting rotation in the majors, a Hall of Fame manager, arguably the game’s best closer, not to mention the best hitter in several decades if not ever, and it’s easy to see why the Cardinals are running away with the division so many predicted would come down to the season’s final days.
Armed with this year’s NL Cy Young winner in Chris Carpenter, one of his top competitors for the award in Adam Wainwright, and unheralded Joel Pineiro and the Cards trio of starters combined for a 47-19 record with a 2.70 ERA. Then factor in Ryan Franklin’s 1.67 ERA and the fact that he’s converted 37 of 40 save chances and you’ll see why St. Louis has been able to open up baseball’s biggest lead of any of the divisions.
Offensively, the Yankees and the Phillies might be a little tougher from top to bottom but you won’t find any weak spots in the Cards lineup either. If table-setters like Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker can consisting get on base as they have all season, St. Louis power hitters, Ryan Ludwick, Mark DeRosa, Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols (not to mention they just got proven postseason veteran Troy Glaus back) will take care of the rest.
If the Cards do have a weakness, it would be that they don’t have a lot of team speed. But if you give me the best staff, the best manager, the best closer and the best hitter in the league, I’ll take my chances losing the stolen base category with any opponent. As we’ve seen the last couple of years, any team can get hot down the stretch and go on a postseason tear so who knows. But unlike virtually everybody did in the preseason, I won’t overlooking the Cardinals this postseason.