The St. Louis Cardinals clinched the NL Central on Wednesday night, this after beating the Pirates, 11-1, in Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals (100-59) have now made the playoffs in five straight seasons – and 12 times since 2000 – and won 100 games for the first time since 2005.
How in the world did a team with this many injuries win 100 games and clinch the toughest division in baseball?
“It’s crazy,” FOX Sports MLB analyst and CBS Eye on Baseball co-host C.J. Nitkowski said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “You think about all the adversity that you faced and think about Mike Matheny. We make a lot of assumptions about the Cardinals – that everything just kind of goes their way and they’re consistent and that it’s easy for them – and that’s really far from the case.”
Adam Wainwright tore his left Achilles tendon in April and was ruled out for the season. At that point, it seemed highly improbably that the Cards could win the division.
They did anyway.
“You lose your ace for the entire season,” Nitkowski said. “He’s back now, but that’s a big blow to a team, and it’s not an easy thing to overcome. And then they lose Carlos Martinez, and then they lose (Yadier) Molina and they had Matt Holliday out for a long time. Randal Grichak, who’s a big part of what they do offensively, was out for a long time. I think that really speaks to the credibility of Mike Matheny and the credit that he deserves for this year. He had a really good year. He did a really nice job. This organization is consistent, but they’re also very good at what they do, and they do a really good job of filling in the holes within their organization. You see guys like Stephen Piscotty come up, Carlos Martinez this year now. They just do a really nice job of making sure they have the depth to overcome the injuries, and I think that really is what this year’s been all about for them.”
The Cardinals have even found a way to win without Molina (thumb), which is good – because they may have to do that in the postseason.
“You have to be very careful as a pitcher because when you have a catcher like Yadier Molina, it’s great because you know you can turn the game over to him, but you also have to be careful because that can put you in a situation where you get a little bit lazy,” Nitkowski said. “Then all of a sudden if you lose him, now you have to figure out can I work with another guy? Did I get too dependent on my catcher who was so good behind the plate? And now you get incapable of calling your own game. The good news for the Cardinals is that they believe Tony Cruz is almost as good when it comes to calling a game as Yadier Molina.”
Matheny has referred to Cruz’s five seasons in St. Louis as an “apprenticeship,” while Cardinals pitchers – such as Trevor Rosenthal – refer to Cruz as “Little Yadi.”
“That just tells me that they have all the confidence in the world in him,” Nitkowski said. “Even if he’s not as good behind the plate as Yadier Molina, as long as the pitchers think he is, as long as they have confidence in what he is doing, that plays a big role in this. So I don’t think they’re going to see that much of a difference. It certainly doesn’t sound like their pitchers are too concerned.”