Before we look at what to expect from this Cardinals team in 2015, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s look at how theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve gotten to their role as de facto division favorites.
The Cardinals are frustrating. Not for their fans, of courseÃ¢â‚¬â€lifeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all peaches and cream and prospects falling out of trees who start the next seasonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s All Star Game, year after year it seems. They draft well, they trade and sign free agents well, and they play the game well. That last oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a bit of a curmudgeonly old broadcaster clichÃƒÂ©, but if you define Ã¢â‚¬Å“playing the game wellÃ¢â‚¬Â as Ã¢â‚¬Å“winning enough games to make the playoffs and then making some noise in the postseasonÃ¢â‚¬Â then itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s true. Take a look at their last twenty seasons, and their track record of making the playoffs:
Two World Series wins in four appearances, six additional trips to the NLCS (take a moment to enjoy a little schadenfreude at the expense of those six series losses, at least, while remembering to forget about how many NL Championship Series the Reds have made in that time), and two more NLDS losses, making it twelve trips to the playoffs since 1996. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a pretty legendary run of two decades.
Our dear Uncle Walt set the groundwork from the mid-Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ90s to 2007, drafting a couple of the current rosterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mainstays (Yadier Molina, Jon Jay, Jaime Garcia) and pulling off a few bank heist-quality trades to get key players like Larry Walker (for Chris Narveson and two others), Adam Wainwright (for Eli Marrero and J.D. Drew), and Jim Edmonds (for Adam Kennedy and Kent Bottenfield).
His protÃƒÂ©gÃƒÂ© John Mozeliak hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just stepped in admirably after JockettyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s departure, rather he and his staff have been far more effective at gathering talent over the last few years, particularly in the draft. Mozeliak drafted six players on the current CardinalsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ 25-man roster and has turned Ryan Ludwick into Jake Westbrook, Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen, and Shane Peterson into Matt Holliday, and exchanged Jim Edmonds for David Freese, who himself was flipped for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk after he provided some postseason heroics.
Furthermore, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been fortunate to get productive years from players theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve signed to long-term deals. In fact, the control they have over the core of their roster is enviable. Wainwright, Molina, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, Kolten Wong, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez are all under team control through 2018, with top prospects Stephen Piscotty and Marco Gonzales both pre-arbitration as well. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also the possibility they extend Jason Heyward before the year is through. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to see a pretty similar version of this team for the forseeable futureÃ¢â‚¬â€thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s good news for Cardinals pundits, bad news for the rest of us who cheer for the other teams in the same division.