ST. LOUIS – The lessons begin in rookie ball.
Every team emphasizes fundamentals and preparedness, both physical and mental, in the hope it all becomes second nature as players climb through the farm system.
One organization’s philosophy always seems to stick out. Everyone knows about The Cardinal Way.
Even before opening day this year, St. Louis was hit hard by season-ending injuries to longtime ace Chris Carpenter, closer Jason Motte and shortstop Rafael Furcal. As the summer wore on, the setbacks kept coming.
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But the Cardinals kept dipping into the minors for replacements who did more than their share for a team that is back in the World Series for the fourth time in 10 years.
The kids they plugged in, most by necessity, weren’t wide-eyed. They remembered the teaching and let their ability flow.
“There’s definitely nerves that are going on,” 22-year-old pitcher Michael Wacha said after beating Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw twice in the NL Championship Series. “You’ve just got to be able to control them and try to use them to your advantage out there.”
The Cardinals are in the postseason for the 10th time in 14 years. Fresh off their 19th pennant, they will go for their second championship in three years when they open the best-of-seven World Series against the Red Sox on Wednesday at Fenway Park in Boston.
Since new ownership took over from Anheuser-Busch in 1996, only the New York Yankees have more playoff victories than St. Louis.
The pitching staff is deep, thanks to the farm system.
Shelby Miller had a 3.06 earned-run average this season and led major-league rookies with 15 victories. Yet when the playoffs arrived, there was no room for him in the rotation.
Wacha is 3-0 with a 0.43 postseason ERA in 21 innings, and fellow rookie Trevor Rosenthal seized the closer’s job in September when Edward Mujica faltered.
Carlos Martinez stepped into the setup role and left-hander Kevin Siegrist posted a 0.45 ERA in the regular season.
None shakes off catcher Yadier Molina, also a product of The Cardinal Way.
“The minor leagues, they’re doing a good job teaching them how to pitch, teaching them how to control the emotions,” Molina said. “Whenever they move up here, they’re ready. Mentally, they’re ready from the get-go.”
General manager John Mozeliak appreciates the organization-wide recognition, but couldn’t have predicted most of the prospects would come through this quickly.
John Gast arrived with zero expectations and won his first two career starts. Tyler Lyons, hardly a name on the tip of any fan’s tongue, won his first two starts as well.
“None of that would have seemed right. Right?” Mozeliak said. “Our expectations were not for them to have so many fingerprints on this club. It’s a great commentary on the organization.”
Most of the World Series roster is homegrown, a strategy emphasizing scouting expertise and consistency in instruction that allows the Cardinals to keep running with the bigger spenders.
When longtime slugger and franchise icon Albert Pujols left after the 2011 title for a $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels, Allen Craig stepped in at first base and blossomed into a big RBI guy at a fraction of the price.
When Craig went down with a sprained foot in early September, Matt Adams supplied power during the stretch drive.
The Cardinals aren’t the only team surrounding a highly paid nucleus with products from the farm system. They are just one of the best at it.
“Even in lean years, these guys find a way to be there,” Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington said this summer. “It doesn’t matter the personnel, this is what’s expected, and they find a way to get it done.”