There's always next year.
This phrase is said way too often by fans of bad teams across all sports. However, it should ring true and mean a lot more for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Although the Cardinals fell in six games to the Boston Red Sox at the 2013 World Series, they proved that they are still an elite team and on the verge of many more wins in the future. Depending on what teams do in the offseason, the Cards should be the favorite to win it all a year from now.
What makes a consistent winner in baseball is a great pitching staff. St. Louis finished fifth in the majors in ERA this past season, but the group will be even better in 2014.
Adam Wainwright remains the ace of the staff after a Cy Young-caliber season. He signed a five-year extension before the start of the year, and he responded with 19 wins and a major league-leading 241.2 innings pitched.
However, the big difference will be that the team will get a full year of two youngsters who barely scratched the surface in 2013.
Michael Wacha burst onto the scene with some solid performances during the regular season, although none of them bigger than an almost-no-hitter in September, when he gave up his first hit with two outs in the ninth.
He carried that momentum to be a dominant force in the postseason, winning his first four starts with a 1.00 ERA. Although he was unable to come through for the team in Game 6, the stuff is for real, and he is set to become one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Meanwhile, Joe Kelly only made 15 starts this past season, but he had the best ERA among all Cardinals starters and has become a formidable No. 3 in the playoffs. Pairing these players with Shelby Miller, who should be solid once again after fading late in his first year, and this might be the best young staff in the majors.
This does not even include some more young pitchers out of the bullpen who showcased their ability in the World Series. Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez were given increased roles in the postseason, and for the most part came through with excellent showings while displaying some electric pitches.
While Boston was able to take the series, the team only batted .211, which shows how good the Cardinals pitching staff really is. The truth is the rest of the league is in trouble.
There are certainly other top units around the league that can come close to matching up with St. Louis. The Los Angeles Dodgers certainly have a formidable staff led by Clayton Kershaw. However, that group is not likely to get much better in the next few years. Additionally, none of them truly stepped up in the postseason the way Wainwright and Wacha did.
The same could be said for the Atlanta Braves, who saw Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran get rocked in the playoffs. These players did not display the mental composure necessary for competing well in pressure situations.
Of course, the Cardinals can also add in an offense that led the National League in runs this season. The group did not hit a lot of home runs, but there was consistent hitting throughout the lineup to ensure a good showing virtually every time out.
With everyone except Carlos Beltran under team control for the next few years, this lineup should remain in great shape going forward.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox will have a hard time holding onto a roster with numerous free agents, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew. Between these players potentially leaving and an aging core of players, it is hard to imagine the team being as strong a year from now.
The Cardinals were unable to top the Red Sox in the World Series, but they had the same regular-season record and should be better a year from now. They have the ability to win over 100 games and, with a little bit better luck, win another championship.
In an age where the media usually crushes the losing team, it is hard to remember one getting as much praise as this one:
This is due to the respect St. Louis has earned over the years, as well as the truth that this is truly a great team that is barely reaching its potential.
Fans have the right to be upset with a disappointing end to this season, but there are plenty more good days ahead.
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