The Kansas City Royals snapped a 29-year streak of regular season futility by making the playoffs this fall. After a Wild Card game for the ages, the Royals went on to sweep the Angels and Orioles to advance to the World Series. The Royals forced a seventh game against the Giants but ultimately lost the series, stranding Alex Gordon, the tying run, on third.
Between 2002 and 2013, ten franchises have made it to the World Series only to come up empty. Each installment of this column will look at one of those franchises to see what has happened in the seasons following their World Series loss. Today’s column features the St. Louis Cardinals.
After from the Royals, the Cardinals franchise lost in the World Series most recently. St. Louis fans saw their team lose to the Red Sox in six games after beating the Pirates (NLDS 3-2) and the Dodgers (NLCS 4-2).
This wasn’t the first time the redbirds lost a World Series to the Red Sox. They were also being swept in 2004 by the team of destiny who came back to beat the Yankees after trailing 3-0 in the ALCS. Managed by Tony LaRussa, the Cards led MLB that year surging to 105-57 record, a full four games better than the second best New York Yankees. Enjoying the finest season of his career, Scott Rolen led the team with 9.2 WAR (3rd among MLB position players) followed by Pujols (8.5, 5th) and Jim Edmonds (7.2, 10th). 2004 was the one of only two seasons between 2003 and 2011 that a player not named Albert Pujols led the team in WAR.
Aside from that second World Series loss in 2013, what happened to the Cardinals from 2005 to 2014? They went a cumulative 889-730 for a W-L % of .549, good for third best in MLB behind only the Yankees (.577) and Angels (.559) and posting just a single losing season. They also earned two World Series titles, defeating both the Tigers (2006) and Rangers (2011).
Predictably, the organization also saw significant turnover during this ten year period. Long-time skipper LaRussa left to work for MLB under Joe Torre before moving on to drier pastures, overseeing baseball operations for the Arizona Diamondbacks. In December 2013, he was voted into Cooperstown by the Veterans Committee.
St. Louis lost another legend, seeing future Hall of Fame slugger Albert Pujols walk in free agency, signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for 10 years and $240 million. From 2005 until he left the Cardinals following the 2011 season, Pujols was the most dominant hitter in baseball amassing 57.3 WAR and taking home three NL MVP trophies.
Following the 2013 World Series loss, John Mozeliak extended a qualifying offer to right fielder Carlos Beltran which Beltran rejected. He then traded third baseman and 2011 World Series MVP David Freese along with relief pitcher Fernando Salas to the Angels for speedy outfielder Peter Bourjos and minor leaguer Randal Grichuk. Mozeliak also signed free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta (4 years/$53 million) and second baseman Mark Ellis (1 year/$5.25 million). The Ellis signing allowed Manager Mike Matheny to shift Matt Carpenter to third base while Peralta replaced Pete Kozma as the everyday shortstop.
During the 2014 season Mozeliak surprised Cardinals fans by trading Alan Craig, who had signed a five year $31 million contract (plus club option) prior to the 2013 season, to Boston along with Joe Kelly. Boston returned John Lackey, who was set to earn the league minimum in 2015, and prospect Corey Littrell. This offseason – in an effort to replace the late Oscar Taveras – he traded starting pitcher Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves for stand-out right fielder Jason Heyward and RHP Jordan Walden.
Since their World Series loss in 2004, the Cards have consistently found themselves in the post season. Thanks to the emergence of stars like catcher Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright along with homegrown talent that includes Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, Trevor Rosenthal, and Michael Wacha, the Cardinals have built a team that should continue to challenge in the NL Central.
All statistics from baseball-reference.comNext post: The Worst Play in the History of Baseball
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