Baseball BeatOctober 29, 2006
. . . And Then There Was One
By Rich Lederer

The St. Louis Cardinals. The only team that won 11 postseason games. The only playoff team that won its last game. The only team whose players can say they are the 2006 World Series champions.

Who'da thunk four weeks ago? The Cardinals barely made the playoffs, holding off the Houston Astros on the final weekend of the season to capture the National League Central title. St. Louis (83-78) entered postseason play with the third-worst record ever and emerged as the World Series champ with the lowest winning percentage of all time.

Better to get pinned with that label than to win 116 games like the Seattle Mariners in 2001 and the Chicago Cubs in 1906 and not win the World Series. Flags fly forever. The number of victories just becomes a piece of trivia. Quick, how many regular-season games did the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals win on the way to their last championship? The answer is 92 but nobody really cares anymore.

There are only two things that matter: (1) making the postseason and (2) winning your last game. Do both of those and you can call yourselves World Series champs.

The Redbirds went into the Fall Classic as heavy underdogs. The Detroit Tigers, winners of 95 games during the season and seven in a row in the playoffs, were made 2:1 favorites to win the World Series. The American League destroyed the National League in inter-league play this year, going 154-98 (.611). The AL had also shown its superiority of late by winning 10 straight All-Star Games and 10 of the past 14 World Series. The poor team from the NL didn't stand a chance or so most pundits and fans thought.

The fact that the Tigers had six days off going into the World Series received a lot of attention - and for good reason. The last half dozen teams with five or more days of rest all went on to pop champagne corks in the locker room following their final game. But there were a couple of trends working against Detroit. Five of the six division and league championship series in 2006 were won via upsets (with only the Mets' sweep of the Dodgers in the NLDS going by the book). Moreover, the team with the lower win total during the regular season had captured the World Series title more often than not since the introduction of divisions in 1969.

Thanks to the Cardinals, the team with the inferior record has now won 3-of-the-last-4, 6-of-the-last-8, 10-of-the-last-14, and 21-of-the-last-37 World Series. Call it mystifying. Call it exciting. Or do as Billy Beane and call it a crapshoot or "five hands of blackjack." Roll the dice or deal the cards. The recipe is pretty straightforward. Make the postseason, give your club a 1-in-8 chance to win it all, get hot, and earn the right to tell the world that the reason you won was because your team pulled together when it mattered most. It's as simple as that.

The Cardinals won the NL Central, then played their best baseball of the season in beating the Padres in the NLDS, the Mets in the NLCS, and the Tigers in the World Series. Make no mistake about it, St. Louis won it all fair and square. The team did just enough from April through September and everything asked of it during October. St. Louis was the only team to win all three of its postseason series and that, my friends, is all that matters.

Sure, some people will say that Detroit didn't hit or field or run the bases well. And you know what? Those folks are right. But rather than calling the Tigers out for losing the Series, why not give credit where credit is due? St. Louis beat Detroit four games to one. The Yankees didn't do that. The A's didn't do that. And the Cardinals didn't give the Padres or the Mets a chance to do that either.

The St. Louis Cardinals. The only team that won 11 postseason games. The only playoff team that won its last game. The only team whose players can say they are the 2006 World Series champions. Congratulations to management, the players, the city of St. Louis, and Redbird Nation.

Part Two: Monday. An in-depth look at the Cardinals and how they stack up for 2007.


This is the most put together peice I've read on this World Series so far. Thank you. It's nice to see someone actually note what it's all about and that sometimes the overall numbers do not tell the whole story. I'm a big one for stats, but I think sometimes the stats don't tell everything until you look at them in their context. The Cardinals may not have had usual eye popping stats...less than 90 wins, etc. But they had better stats than their opponent, more often than not & at the times they needed to. You noted that, whereas nobody else seems to be smart enough to.

Bravo! Any team that makes it into the playoffs under whatever system is in place has earned a spot. I've seen constant complaints about the playoff system and how changes need to be made-- penalizing wild-card teams by not giving them any home games and changing the playoff format to 2-2-1-1-1 are two of the silly examples-- and, honestly, I never liked the wild-card (I like the way the divisions and playoffs were set-up from 1969 to 1993) but I have never thought any of the wild-card teams that have won the Series, or any team that has ever had a record like the Cardinals (the 1987 Twins or the 1973 Mets) backed into it or didn't earn it. I like that baseball is unpredictable. If we knew at the end of the baseball season that the team with the best won/loss record was going to be the champion, well, what's the fun in that, right.

Excellent article. Let the winter games begin!

The team that usually wins those 11 elusive games that are required in order to be called "World Champions," is the team that out pitches, out hits, out scores their opponents.

Timely hitting along with steady fielding will lead the way to victory.

With that being said, the fact that most of Detroit's errors came from their rookies can lead one to assume that nervousness and inexperience led to their demise.

The Cardinals went through a similar ordeal in 2004 when they were swept by the Red Sox. They knew all too well that feeling of defeat and played above their capabilities in the NLCS and the World Series.

Congrats to the Cardinals for their well deserved World Series Championship.

Everybody wrote off Detroit when they went into the season. Then everybody wrote them off at the beginning of the postseason after they were swept by the juggernaut that is the Kansas City Royals in their last three regular season games. And then everybody wrote off St. Louis going into the World Series.

Nobody knows anything, and Beane is right. It's gambling and whoever decides to get hot/lucky at the right time.

I like the Wild Card and think it has, generally, been a positive thing for baseball. With the Wild Card and the new divisional alignment, however, comes stinkers like this year's Cards. I think that's fine and I accept it but I don't necessarily like it and I will resist any claims that this Cardinal team was the best team in baseball this year. In fact, if you combine both the NL and the AL, I think it is pretty clear that the Cards were probably the 10th-best team, if that. I mean, if they had been in the AL, they would have had a record right around where Cleveland and Seattle ended up.

If someone wants to call my analysis "taking something away" from St. Louis, that's fine. I'm just calling a duck a duck. The Cards were a very, very mediocre team that snuck into the playoffs by being in the worst division in baseball. Once in the playoffs, they won some games, like any essentially .500 major league team would have the chance to do.

This year's Cards represent what is *bad* about the Wild Card, not what is good. If the team had not come from a "baseball town" (i.e., somewhere like Tampa or Arizona or Colorado) the story of this year's World Series would have been a lot more negative and a lot more vitriolic towards the Wild Card.

You know what? The Cardinals were the best team in baseball in 2004 and perhaps in 2005. Look what that got them. The Cardinals were a better team than the Royals in '85, and the Twins in '87, look what that got them. They won the World Series this year because they played better than every team they went up against. The best team doesn't always win, heck, the best team often does not win.

This Cardinals team is much, much better than most people realize. Injuries were the prime reason they only won 83 games in the regular season. Had they had Edmonds, Eckstein, Rolen and others (Mulder, Isringhausen) healthy all year they would've won over 90 games. And perhaps not won the Series. The Cardinals were an injured, weakened team that got hot and healthy (or healthier) at the right time. And at the end of the day, the only thing you can say about them that matters now is this: World Series Champions, 2006!

Pokey Joe,
Congratulations on your team's victory. However, I have serious issues with the idea that the Cardinals were the best team in baseball in 2004 or 2005. The American League has been head and shoulders above the National League in quality for quite some time. The White Sox were the best team in baseball last year and the Yankees and Red Sox were both superior to the Cardinals in 2004.
The 2006 Cardinals were not better than most people realize. They were what they were- 5 games over .500 for the season.
And don't let the Eckstein-mania fool you. The Cardinals went 16-14 during Eckstein's injury spell from mid-Aug to mid-Sep. That means that they were actually percentage points better WITHOUT HIM. I know this is a small sample size (but not that small), but the point is, having the 21st-ranked shortstop in Eq. Avg. injured isn't a big deal to a team in a horrendous division. Mulder and Isringhausen (regardless of how injured they were) were hurting the team when they went down, so it was a blessing to get them off the field.

I said the Cardinals were perhaps the best team in '05. In 2004, they were the best team. They were also a team that lost its #1 pitcher before the postseason. Lest you forget, just one year earlier the Marlins had won the W.S. so it's not like the NL was the Triple A version of MLB.

Yes, Izzy and Mulder were hurting the team. My point was they were not healthy. Had they been healthy, the team would have been better.

The Cardinals were fortunate to be in a lousy division, otherwise they would not have qualified for the post season. Once they qualified, however, they played better than anyone else. They won 83 games in the regular season. That's not very impressive. Had they had a healthy team, they would've won 90 or more. And once several significant parts returned and/or got hot (ore had surgery to stop the bleeding), they played more like a 90 win team than an 83 win team.

I don't think it's very practical to look at it supposing injuries didn't play a part. If this were the case, the Mets would have started a healthy Pedro, El Duque and brought Duaner Sanchez out of the bullpen to shut down the Cards. If Mulder's healthy, maybe the Cards don't pick up Weaver. Maybe Isringhausen blows the games that Wainwright closed out. Who knows?

They won. All championship teams get lucky, so I don't hold it against them. I don't see the point in assuming what could have been if they won the World Series.

You're right in that it is pointless and, at this point, irrelevant. The best team seldom wins, it seems.

It looks as though we will have to agree to disagree on whether or not the Cardinals are better than an 83 win team. At this point, they are a 94 win team and nothing else really matters. Like LaRussa said, baseball rewards the team that plays the best. For once, the Cardinals did just that in the postseason.