There's no doubt a high level of skill and expertise went into the St. Louis Cardinals' player selection and development over the last few years.
But a healthy dose of luck hasn't hurt, either.
Two years ago, if someone told Cardinals fans how Chris Carpenter's career would come to an end and that in 2014 St. Louis would be counting on a rookie, a second-year pitcher and a guy coming off shoulder surgery to be stalwarts of the starting rotation, that David Freese would be sent packing to make room for a rookie second baseman and that the Redbirds would spend $53 million for a shortstop who was suspended last season for PEDs, I'm not sure the fan base would be optimistic.
We've all heard about how good Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal were going to be. But we also heard that Colby Rasmus was going to make us all forget about Jim Edmonds. So forgive me if I needed to see it to believe it.
But while the Pittsburgh Pirates rebuild in a 20-year cycle, the Cardinals have tapped into baseball nirvana, shedding salary and getting younger and more athletic while improving their play on the field. Make no mistake, the Birds ARE in rebuilding mode. But instead of stripping the roster down to the bare walls and settling for 90 loss seasons, they've rebuilt the team on the fly.
It seems there are always at least some growing pains as new players are broken in. But the Birds added rookie Miller to the rotation and replaced veteran reliever Jason Motte with Rosenthal as closer and didn't miss a beat. One game from the World Series in 2012. They took things a step farther in 2013 with a berth in the Fall Classic against the Boston Red Sox.
Meanwhile, it seems like the Cincinnati Reds and Pirates are having difficulty keeping pace.
The Reds have lost table setter Shin-Soo Choo and seem ready to lose starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo. Speedster Bill Hamilton is expected to replace Choo. But how well is he prepared to do so? He only had a .308 on-base percentage last season in Class AAA. He might have a tougher time working his way on base in the big leagues where the pitchers are more consistent and have better stuff.
The Pirates have lost Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd. They've got some help in the starting rotation in the form of the development of top draft pick Gerritt Cole. But they don't have a lot of offensive help on the horizon.
Hopefully the Cardinals will be able to slip Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras into the mix this season and get them up to speed while the competition is still looking for answers.