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'Cardinal Way' continues to be winning formula

St. Louis' manner of drafting, developing its type of players leads to fourth straight NLCS berth

ST. LOUIS -- It is the "Cardinal Way." And if it rubs some people the wrong way, sorry. The Cardinals aren't apologizing. They don't have to. They do it their way and it works.

They are a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of payroll, but a leader of the pack in terms of results.

They knocked off the Dodgers in four games in the National League Division Series thanks to a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, and they are headed to the NLCS for the fourth consecutive year, the third-longest streak in LCS history -- four fewer than the LCS record that the Braves set (1991-98), and just one shy of Oakland (1971-75).

To think, here they are, a team that opened the season with the team's 13th-biggest payroll, $111.25 million, less than half the Majors-leading $235.3 million of the Dodgers.

And chew on this: Since 2000, the Cardinals have won 63 postseason games, the most in Major League Baseball. That's one more than the Yankees and 18 more than the Red Sox, who are second and third on the list, respectively. That's 38 more than both the Dodgers and the A's, who are tied for 10th.

That's impressive.

"Lucky," said general manager John Mozeliak.

Wink. Wink.

Lucky because nearly 80 years later, the Cardinals are still following that basic pattern devised by the late Branch Rickey when he invented the farm system in St. Louis and began to develop the art of statistical analysis.

"That," said manager Mike Matheny, "is something we take a lot of pride in. When you see how many of these kids came up through [the farm system] and are contributing, not just making it here, but thriving at this level and helping us to be able to walk in [the clubhouse and] pop champagne."


Seventeen of the 25 players on the NLDS roster originally signed with the Cardinals. Matt Adams, 23rd-round Draft choice in 2009, had the game-deciding three-run home run off Clayton Kershaw in the seventh inning on Tuesday, and Trevor Rosenthal, a 21st-round choice in that same First-Year Player Draft, got the final three outs to preserve the victory.

By contrast, Oakland had only two homegrowns.

There are high picks, including Shelby Miller, a first-rounder in 2009 who started and worked the first six innings of Game 4, and Marco Gonzalez, a first-round pick just a year ago, who came out of the bullpen to pick up the victories in Games 1 and 4.

And there are later-round picks, like Adams, Rosenthal and Matt Carpenter, the 13th-round pick in 2009, who hit .375 in the four games, and homered and doubled in each of the first three.

"The mentality is a never-give-up mentality," said Adams. "I came up with Shelby in the Minor Leagues. We got to Spring Training, and they hammered it into us that this organization likes to win and knows it can win."

Those 17 players range from Gonzalez, from last year's Draft, to Yadier Molina, a fourth-round pick in 2000 -- a stretch in which the Cardinals never lost their way despite having five different scouting directors, five different farm directors and two different general managers.

"It shows that they believe in the organization," said Adams. "They draft guys they can develop and are the [Cardinals'] type of player. That's the big thing, knowing that if you get drafted by the Cardinals, you know you are going to have a chance to come up through the organization and play in the big leagues with them."

And that list of 17 doesn't include Game 1 starter Adam Wainwright, the ace of the staff, who was the prospect -- along with big league pitchers Ray King and Jason Marquis -- that the Cardinals picked up in the trade of J.D. Drew to Atlanta in 2003. Wainwright spent two years in the Cardinals' farm system before making it to the big leagues.

Yes, they made a high-profile trade themselves, to acquire Matt Holliday from Oakland, but the Cardinals gave up three of their former Draft choices in that deal, much like the two homegrown players sent to Boston in July for John Lackey.

Free agency is more a last resort. Jhonny Peralta was given a four-year deal last winter to fill a shortstop void, but the only other free-agent signees are lefty reliever Randy Choate, and right-handed reliever Pat Neshek, who wasn't even signed to his one-year, $1 million deal until February.

"There is no secret about this game, and the St. Louis Cardinals don't claim to be doing it any better than anyone else," said Matheny, "but we are not going to shy from the fact that we hold ourselves to a high level, and how our guys complete."

Maybe Babe Ruth put it best back in the 1920s.

"It's not bragging if you can really do it," he said.

And the Cardinals, they have proven they can really do it.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for
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