The St. Louis Cardinals became the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the major leagues Saturday, but it wasn’t anything they did. The San Francisco Giants’ loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, a few hours after the Chicago Cubs beat the Cardinals 5-4, made sure St. Louis will make the postseason.
This is the fifth consecutive season the Cardinals will make the playoffs, a run of postseasons that is a franchise record for the team with the second-most World Series titles (11).
St. Louis’ success this season -- the Cardinals have by far the best record in baseball (92-56) -- came despite injuries to several key players, which reaffirmed the organization’s strengths in drafting and development.
Injuries started early
Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright went on the disabled list after tearing an Achilles tendon in late April. Among pitchers with at least 50 starts since 2012, Wainwright, at the time of his injury, ranked first in shutouts (seven) and complete games (13), and was second in wins (55) and hits per nine innings (0.52).
But the emergence of Carlos Martinez (13-7, 3.02 ERA, 1.29 WHIP) has helped compensate for the loss of Wainwright. Martinez was Keith Law's No. 39 prospect heading into 2013, and the Cardinals traded Shelby Miller to acquire Jason Heyward (a first-round pick) and open up a spot in the rotation for Martinez, who made eight starts total in 2013 and 2014.
Matt Holliday had a slash line of .303/.417/.421 when he was injured in June. In his place, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty have performed well. Now, with Grichuk himself hurt, Tommy Pham (.270/.350/.454) has been thrust into a more prominent role.
“Next man up” is a phrase the Cardinals have lived up to this season.
Identifying, developing players
Piscotty was a first-round pick in 2012. He was one of two compensation picks the Cardinals received for losing Albert Pujols to the Los Angeles Angels. The other pick was used on Michael Wacha (16-6, 3.08 ERA, 1.16 WHIP).
Grichuk was a first-round pick in 2009 (chosen with the pick before Mike Trout was taken).
Strength turning into weakness
The Cardinals powered through much of the season boasting the best pitching in the majors. Through Aug. 31, their ERA was 2.65 -- the only team with an ERA of less than 3.00. In September, however, their ERA is 5.01, 22nd in the major leagues.
Looking to the rest of September and the postseason, Wacha and Martinez are approaching (or deep into) uncharted territory. Wacha’s career high for innings pitched in a season is 180 1/3 (incorporating minor league and major league regular season and postseason work). He has thrown 172 1/3 this season.
Martinez’s career high is 120 2/3, and he has already pitched 172 2/3.