As the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
So the St. Louis Cardinals probably aren’t taking much comfort in the fact that they made it to the World Series this season, given their loss in six games to the Boston Red Sox.
Getting so close to a championship and falling short can be even more painful than having a bad season and not even making the playoffs.
Granted, you can’t feel that sorry for the Cardinals and their fans, as they hoisted a championship banner just two seasons ago, and before that in 2006. That’s a lot better than most teams have managed.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t be pulling out all the stops to win another next season, and the odds say they have a great chance of doing so. And with a team that has just won a National League pennant, they are certainly starting from a position of strength.
Odds To Win Championship: 10/1
Key #1: Best catcher in the Major Leagues
A team can’t go far in the big leagues without depth and a fleet of accomplished and capable veterans, and the Cardinals were pushed to the World Series by just such a group.
Look no further than catcher Yadier Molina, who has developed into a true leader and franchise cornerstone for the Cardinals. This was a career year for Molina as he put up some of the best numbers of his career, marking new personal bests in batting average, RBI and doubles.
He also dominates other NL catchers, having won just sixth consecutive Gold Glove award. Few teams in the majors get so much out of their catcher, and Molina will certainly be a big part of next year’s Cards.
Key #2: Lights out pitching
You don’t make it to the World Series without great pitching, and the Cardinals had it in spades this season.
Adam Wainwright is a perfect example of the strength the Cards have on the mound. Fresh off a big contract extension in the off season, he made sure the team wouldn’t regret their investment by putting up terrific numbers throughout the season. With 19 wins and an ERA of 2.94, Wainwright gave the Cardinals a chance to win every time he stepped on to the mound, and more often than not they took full advantage of it.
Rookie standout Michael Wacha also made a name for himself in the playoffs and figures to be a fixture in the starting rotation in 2014.
Key #3: Replace Carlos Beltran, or bring him back
The Cardinals got terrific contributions from newcomer Carlos Beltran this season, from great defence in the outfield to quality hitting and veteran leadership. That will be hard to replace if Beltran opts to leave for another team in free agency, but the Cardinals would be unwise to leave such a role unfilled going into 2014.
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