They are looking for their second World Series title in three years and their third since 2006. The St. Louis Cardinals are the envy of just about every organization in Major League Baseball. They consistently win and do it with more homegrown players than most.
This week, Baseball America editor in chief John Manuel wrote this article about the World Series teams with an emphasis on what the Cardinals have done with some outstanding scouting, drafting and player development.
St. Louis has become a model for other teams, like the Orioles, to try and match.
Look at their pitching staff, which is mostly Cardinal drafted and developed. They have drafted starting pitchers Joe Kelly (round 3, 2009), Michael Wacha (round 1, 2012) and Lance Lynn (round 1, 2008). They have used former starter Shelby Miller (round 1, 2009) in relief this year in the playoffs. Their bullpen includes Seth Maness (round 11, 2011), Kevin Siegrist (round 41, 2008) and closer Trevor Rosenthal (round 21, 2009).
I talked with Manuel about the Cardinals' success as an organization, particularly their ability to draft and develop pitchers.
"Now they are so home grown and they've found the holy grail of pitching development. I think they are the envy of the industry," Manuel said.
"The big key to me is Brent Strom, who just got hired as the Astros major league pitching coach. He was their roving minor league pitching coordinater.
"The main aspects from talking to Brent is he tried to treat everyone as an individual. They don't have one blanket for every pitcher as far as time limits (to get ready for a start), how you long toss and for what pitches you can and can't throw.
"Some organizations, you may hear that they are a curveball organization over the slider or you can't long toss over 120 feet. They are much more individualized than that and they've had a talent for helping pitchers find the mechanics that work for them.
"Joe Kelly was a college reliever and they developed him into a mid-rotation starter. Rosenthal from a JuCo shortstop and reliever into one of the most electric arms in the big leagues. Siegrist, where did this guy come from? A 41st-round pick, are you kidding?
"Their bullpen is almost all rookies. You have Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Siegrist and Rosenthal. Four of their main guys right now are all rookies and Shelby Miller is their long man. That is insane."
Manuel said the Cards have done a fine job of drafting college position players like Matt Adams, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay, Shane Robinson and Kolten Wong. He said some of those players had defensive questions and St. Louis worked with the players to get better.
He gave their analytics department some props for those college position players.
"I think their development system needs to get more credit, but a Cardinal scout I have talked with gives a ton of the credit to the analytics side," Manuel said. "It sends their scouts to specific players they need to bear down on (in scouting)."
Sometimes you need some good fortune too. Manuel can cite the drafting of Rosenthal after an area scout saw him pitch just one inning. But he was so good that day the scout listed him as his "gut feel" guy, meaning a player they should consider taking a chance on in a later round. Meanwhile, Wacha was projected by Baseball America to be drafted 11 spots before the Cardinals got him.
"They've had a track record of keeping their power arms healthy and to come through and be what they ask them to be," Manuel said. "Wacha was No. 8 on our draft board in 2012 but he fell to them at No. 19.
"Sometimes a fastball/changeup right-hander is not a great profile. (Kevin) Gausman faced some of those same questions with the breaking ball his third pitch. Sometimes you are lucky and I think they were lucky to get Wacha at 19.
"We ranked Miller, Martinez, Rosenthal and Wacha in that order, coming into the year among their right-handed pitchers and all those guys throw 95 (mph). All organizations try to draft power arms, but it seems like the Cardinals have done a better job of it. Siegrist in the 41st round and Rosenthal in the 21st, that is just good scouting."
Rosenthal, by the way, saw 638 players drafted ahead of him in June 2009. He spent 2009 and 2010 in rookie ball and pitched all of 2011 in low Single-A, going 7-7 with a 4.11 ERA in 22 starts at Quad Cities of the Midwest League. This year, he fanned 108 in 75 innings in the majors and last night, he blew away the Red Sox in the ninth at Fenway Park. A 21st-round draft pick. Someone in scouting, player development or both did a pretty fantastic job there for the Cardinals with that young pitcher.
It would seem that other organizations would try to emulate what the Cardinals have been doing.
"I don't know how you copy their pitching development because if it was easy everyone else would have figured it out by now," Manuel said. "Sometimes it really does come down to having a great teacher, it may be that one guy.
"I do think they have that open-minded approach. Pro teams have criticized some college programs for a cookie-cutter approach, like having their pitchers all use a similar delivery. Many pro organizations do cookie-cut some, for instance the players all do the same drills or emphasize a curve over the slider, but the Cardinals don't."
A well-run organization that produces consistent wins and playoff appearances. The Cardinals are where the Orioles and many other teams want to go.
"I think their biggest compliment is they won their fourth pennant in 10 years and they've done it with a huge amount of turnover and a second-year manager," Manuel said. "It's very impressive. They are the model franchise for the rest of the industry for sure."