We've learned from the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers that the St. Louis Cardinals are the team that other clubs love to hate.
They claim the Redbirds players are a bunch of bullies and blow hards -- although I tend to believe that at least a little bit of it has something to do with jealousy. After all, the Cardinals have won two World Series championships and one National League pennant over the last decade while the Reds and Brewers are stuck at zero on both counts. Largely because of the Cardinals' doings.
It must sting in Milwaukee that the two times the Brewers were closest to glory -- in 1982 when they made it all the way to the World Series and in 2011 when they made it to the National League Championship Series -- it was St. Louis that snuffed out their hopes and dreams. And Cincinnati fans -- as well as a coupe of players there -- like to brag that they have the better team only to lose out to the Cardinals when the games really count...
Anyway, despite changes to the Cardinals coaching staff and the inevitable roster turnover, it's not time to make friends with the Reds and Brewers. It's time to make a new enemy of the upstart Pirates.
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Pittsburgh was all full of itself, winning nine games in a row and taking over first place in the National League Central -- and all of baseball, for that matter. It's up to the Cardinals to show that they're still the big man on campus, turning away a new challenger.
St. Louis has run down the Buccos in the standings, tying them by sweeping the Marlins. Now it's time to dominate the weak sisters on the schedule before the All-Star Game to get back out in front and then hammer the Pirates in a five-game set in Pittsburgh at the end of the month to show them who is the boss.
The Pirates play very good baseball. They're a disciplined team that does all the little things. But they don't have the veteran grit or the depth of the Cardinals. So there is no reason for Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright to play the part of the nice guy now.
The Pirates starting rotation is pretty green when it comes to the postseason. Jeff Locke has never pitched in a playoff game. A.J. Burnett has the most experience. But he's 2-2 with a 5.08 ERA in October baseball and he's had trouble staying healthy again this year. Another guy familiar with the disabled list, Wandy Rodriguez is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in the playoffs -- all relief work. Fransicso Liriano is 0-0 with a 5.87 ERA in 7 2/3 innings of work in the post season. Close Jason Grilli was a member of the 2006 Detroit Tigers World Series team. But he was a middle reliever then, not the big man in the 'pen.
Russell Martin is the most experienced position player the Pirates have when it comes to the playoffs. But he's never played in the World Series.
By contrast, every regular player on the Cardinals roster has played all the way to the National League Championship Series while most have at least one World Series ring and others have two. If Chris Carpenter can return to the mound he'll add the most significant October pitcher since Bob Gibson to the mix for the stretch run.
The youngest of the Redbirds kids, including Shelby Miller and Pete Kozma, have contributed in October.
It's not especially likely that the Bucs will make big additions at the trade deadline. They are still a small market team. So they don't have the resources -- be it cash or prospects they can afford to part with -- for the sake of making themselves better at the trade deadline. And they don't want to give away 2014 and 2015 for the sake of making 2013 an all-in situation.
I'm not saying the Cardinals should part with the cream of their prospect crop for short term rentals. But the team could deal second tier players to bolster their bench or their pitching staff and help themselves to clear some log jams at spots where they have players they couldn't possibly find playing time for while the Pirates would have to mortgage a promising future to match that kind of move.
The Cardinals, are the better team on paper. Now it's up to them to prove that they're the best time between the lines, the only place where those sorts of designations count.