Cards have expectation of winning the World Series

St. Louis doesn't just want a ring for Pujols, Molina and Waino, but Arenado and Goldy too

September 29th, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- As much as the Cardinals wanted to clinch the National League Central title for retiring legends Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina and aging pitcher Adam Wainwright, they wanted it just as badly for superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado.

It was at a team dinner Monday night in Milwaukee when Arenado -- a nine-time Gold Glover, a seven-time All-Star and someone considered to possibly be the greatest defensive player ever at his position -- spoke passionately about what it would mean to him to win a division title.

An accomplishment that might have seemed like no big deal to veterans such as Pujols and Molina meant everything to the 31-year-old Arenado. After all, he had only been to the playoffs before as a Wild Card, doing so in 2017 and ’18 with the Rockies and in 2021 with the Cardinals. This time, Arenado said, he wanted to enter the postseason as a champion.

Moments like Tuesday’s -- winning a division, spraying champagne and expecting to do so every fall -- are why Arenado was excited about becoming a Cardinal, he said to the group in that team dinner.

“Around here, the goal is to win ballgames -- that’s all we talk about and all we think about,” said Arenado, who rested Wednesday while the Cardinals lost 5-1 to the Brewers. “We have a great team, we have a great chance to win the whole thing, and this is a great first step. Now, we have to expect more.”

Expectations of winning, Arenado said, are why he was so desperate to play for the Cardinals, a franchise with 11 World Series titles and 12 NL Central crowns. While expectations to win scare some players away, they were like a magnet to ultra-competitive athletes such as Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt, both of whom came to St. Louis via trades, fell in love with the organization’s constant pursuit to be the final team standing in October and have become MVP candidates.

The Cardinals' expectations extend well beyond division titles, of course. From the first day of Spring Training, manager Oliver Marmol said the only goal has been to win a World Series. Having been brought up through the Cardinals organization -- first, as a player and later as a manager in training -- Marmol knows winning seasons, division titles and berths in the NLCS simply don’t cut it in St. Louis.

“Everybody talks about winning a World Series in Spring Training, but very few follow the process and actually give themselves a chance to do it,” said Marmol of a Cardinals franchise that has won at least 90 games 13 times since 2000.

“That’s what makes this all fun -- expectations are so high,” Marmol added. “If you enjoy that, then this is the place for you. You’re expected to do well every year and you’re expected to win, and there’s something about that that gets you up in the morning, and you love the accountability. We’ll celebrate and then we’ll put our heads down and go back to work.”

Locked into the NL’s No. 3 seed, the Cardinals know they will be hosting the best-of-three Wild Card Series at Busch Stadium. What they don’t know is who they will be facing -- and it could stay that way until next Wednesday’s regular-season finale.

The Cardinals will host the lowest-seeded Wild Card, and that will either be the Phillies, Padres or Brewers. St. Louis clinched the NL Central with a win Tuesday and by building a 10-8 (now 10-9) season series advantage over the Brewers. The Cards won four of six against the Padres -- including all three at Busch Stadium -- but they dropped four of seven versus the Phillies.

Regardless of who is across the way, the Cardinals enter with an expectation to win and advance to face the champions of the NL East (Mets or Braves).

Expectations remain high in St. Louis, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said, because the roster is loaded with success-starved superstars such as Arenado, Goldschmidt and others.

“The reason you go and trade for players like Arenado is to keep this tradition going,” said Mozeliak, whose midseason additions of José Quintana, Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton helped the Cardinals go 36-18 after Aug. 1. “This year has been special having guys like Yadi, Albert and Waino, but it’s also been driven by Nolan, Goldy and a very talented group of young players. Couple all that together, and it’s a good recipe for success.

“I’ve always said even though we’re a smaller market, our fans demand winning, and that’s a great thing,” Mozeliak added. “Look, this team can play with anyone. In October, it’s a little about luck and a lot about health. But, from a pure talent standpoint, we have a good baseball team. And if we get hot, we can be even better.”