I'm sure the St. Louis Cardinals will embark on this postseason the same way they do -- as prohibitive underdogs.
The National media loves to hate the Redbirds. And I think that is largely because most of the ESPN crowd remains largely unfamiliar with the clubs that play their games in Flyover Country. So they're much more impressed with the players who toil for the west coast Los Angeles Dodgers and the east coast Washington Nationals. I get it.
But the truth is that, this season, no one really can predict what to expect from the Cardinals because, in many ways, this isn't going to be the same team in the playoffs that we've seen all year long.
No one has consulted me about the playoff roster. But I have to believe that Randal Grichuk is going to be St. Louis' starting right fielder. Neither the Dodgers nor the Nationals saw Grichuk all season. Meanwhile, the Cardinals had a smoking hole on the bench where Mark Ellis was expected to contribute. I'd be shocked if he gets a roster spot over Pete Kozma who spent nearly the entire season in the minor leagues.
Kozma might have not been the best pinch hitter and backup infielder the Cardinals could have deployed in April and May. But he's battle tested from two previous playoff runs and seems to be the special sort of player who can elevate his game when the pressure is on. Although they haven't seen him this year, the National can attest to Kozma's clutch abilities after he dealt them a knockout blow in the 2012 NLDS.
Beyond Ellis, the St. Louis bench was a non-factor for most of the season with Allen Craig never able to produce and Peter Bourjos struggled, especially in the first half. The Cardinals didn't use backup catcher Tony Cruz any more than absolutely necessary for fear if he pinch hit and starter Yadi Molina got hurt the team would have no replacement.
Grichuk's rise, at least on a temporary basis, has sent top prospect Oscar Taveras to the bench. Taveras may have disappointed with a .239 average overall and only three homers in 248 plate appearances. He hit .229 as a starting player. But Taveras hit .350 when he came off the bench in 20 plate appearances.
It will be interesting to see if the Birds carry three catchers on the roster because veteran AJ Pierzysnski could offer St. Louis not only a lefty bat with some pop off the pine but a lot of lineup flexibility. Molina is the best option behind the plate. But if the Cardinals had to double switch at some point, Molina could move to first base in place of struggling slugger Matt Adams and Pierzynski or Cruz could take over behind the plate.
The Cardinals are also something of a mystery on the mound with young hurler Michael Wacha back and, supposedly, at 100 percent after a 2 1/2 month layoff and extended comeback. Not only do other team's not know what Wacha's going to have to offer, his presence is going to push a pretty formidable pitcher out of the rotation and into the bullpen.
If the Redbirds use four starters in the playoffs and they're Adam Wainwright, John Lackey, Lance Lynn and Wacha, that means a resurgent Shelby Miller will be there to put out fires in the middle innings or to pitch several frames if the need arises.
The bottom line is that the Cardinals are built for the post season. The experimentation, young player development an all the other big picture details are out the window. We're going to see the best 25 players the organization has to offer right now giving it everything they've got. And if the prognosticators want to turn up their noses it doesn't bother me one bit.