Updated: Feb 2
Travel back in time with me for a moment. Back to the last time, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series. A little less than nine and a half years ago, all of the baseball world got to watch a magical World Series matchup between the Cardinals and the Texas Rangers. Go back even further to 2006 and the six-game showdown against Detroit. A series where a rookie closer was finishing off games, and an aging pitcher appeared to have “a substance” on the ball.
There’s something those two teams have in common. Can you guess what it is? There are many things those teams had in common, but there’s one thing that stands out to me more than anything else. Aside from stellar pitching, they both had a complete lineup from top to bottom that was anchored by a fearsome middle of the order. You could likely say that about every team that’s ever won the World Series. But let’s stay in St. Louis.
In 2006, the Redbirds were anchored by the dynamic trio of Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and Albert Pujols. Three superstars that, at their peak, were some of the most feared sluggers in the game. By 2011 the names had changed, but the formula was the same. Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday joined Pujols. Again, three sluggers who could cause the opposing starter to have nightmares the night before the game. And then they were gone.
Since 2011 the Cardinals have been trying to recreate the secret sauce that made the recipe perfect. Numerous attempts failed. Players they hoped would blossom didn’t reach the superstar status that the others did. There was just something missing that wasn’t there before. They were solid players, but they just weren’t elite players.
That 2011 team was fifth in the majors in OPS and first in the National League. The 2006 team? Fourteenth in the majors, three spots behind their eventual World Series opponents, the Detroit Tigers. While it’s true that defense wins championships, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Those two championship teams had great offenses.
There‘s something else those two teams had in common. Of the three superstar sluggers on each team, one was a homegrown talent (Pujols), and the other two were acquired via trade or free agency. Edmonds, Rolen, Holliday, and Berkman were all additions to the team that had already established themselves in the majors. They were an elite talent that just needed a place to win. They all found it in St. Louis.
It’s quite likely that history is about to repeat itself. The Cardinals have their homegrown talent in Dylan Carlson. While he just completed his rookie year and hasn’t achieved superstar status, there is every hope on the part of the Cardinals that he can be. The other two superstars on the team are Paul Goldschmidt and the newly acquired Nolan Arenado. Both players are among the best that baseball has to offer. And isn‘t it funny that the trio plays the same positions that Edmonds, Rolen, and Pujols played?
Three players do not make a lineup, but these three go a long way. The Cardinals may still be a couple of steps behind the Dodgers, Padres, and Braves in terms of a complete team, but they are close. The last time the Cardinals grabbed the best third baseman in the game or a former Rockies slugger, things turned out pretty well. With a wide-open Central Division, the Cardinals are but a lock for a playoff spot. As history has shown, with a middle of the order like that, sometimes that’s more than enough.