10/04/2004 7:33 PM ET
Notes: Best record doesn't matter
Cardinals try to avoid fate of other teams with top mark
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
|Jim Edmonds and the Cardinals were first in the Majors with 105 victories. (James A. Finley/AP)
ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa considers himself a student of baseball history, both recent and more distant. He didn't have to be told on Monday -- though he was -- that it's been six years since the team with baseball's best regular-season record won the World Series.
In fact, over the past five seasons, only two of the 10 teams that won 100 or more games in the regular season even made it to the World Series, and both of those clubs fell short of the ultimate goal. The last team to be the best from April to September, and then in October as well, was the 114-win 1998 Yankees.
Of course, this year's Cardinals sported the best six-month mark at an amazing 105-57. That's the best record for any National League team since the 1998 Braves, who went 106-56 ... and lost in the League Championship Series.
La Russa, speaking with reporters before his team's pre-Division Series workout, said he doesn't think there's anything inherently stopping great regular-season teams from winning in the playoffs. And he declined to go so far as to call the eight-team tournament a crapshoot.
"What it is," he said, "is eight very good baseball teams with strengths and probably some weaknesses. One thing that they have in common is that over the six months, they've qualified. So they have the strengths as compared to the other 22.
"But when you get down to a game or a short series, that's the beauty of the game of baseball. Bucky Dent can hit a three-run homer. Your hottest hitter can go up there and the guy throws the best slider of his life and gets him out. Or your best pitcher hangs a slider. That's why you've got to play the game. To me, that's part of the thrill, the uncertainty."
Uncertainty leapt up and bit the 2002 Cardinals. That team didn't amass the best record in the NL, but it was believed by many to be the best club going into October. But a shoulder injury to Scott Rolen and some subpar performances by a couple of key hitters ended that team's season after a five-game LCS.
This year's Cards feel they're even stronger than that '02 team, though.
"I like to say this is the strongest team I've ever played on," said Game 1 starter Woody Williams. "That's the way I've felt all throughout the year. Our bullpen is exceptional. Our starting lineup hits and plays defense. And our starting pitchers have done a nice job as well."
Rolen feeling fine: Rolen, who has been bothered by a muscle strain high in his left calf, said he doesn't expect to be hindered by the condition in the Division Series. Rolen missed more than two weeks with the injury, but returned to the lineup for the season's final six games. He went 3-for-18 with a home run and four walks in that span.
"To me, it's not worth talking about," he told a group of reporters. "That's not saying it's not a fair question, but I don't really consider it worth talking about because I'm gonna go out and play every day. Play as hard as I can. And whether I'm 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 or 100 percent is irrelevant, because I'm gonna go put my uniform on and run out there and do the best I can."
For his career, Rolen carries a 6-for-11 mark with two home runs against L.A. Game 1 starter Odalis Perez, but he was no more analytical about that than about his leg.
"He's left-handed," Rolen said when asked about his success against Perez. "That helps. I don't know what my numbers are against Odalis Perez. It doesn't really matter what my numbers are against Odalis Perez. I'm gonna go out and try to have good at-bats and not overplay the results issue of the whole thing."
Ticket tension: As La Russa spoke with reporters in his office before Monday's workout, he fielded no fewer than five phone calls, nearly all of which pertained to playoff tickets. As a veteran managing in his 10th postseason, La Russa has learned to handle the demands. But he acknowledged that for players, it can be an unwelcome and difficult distraction.
"The most stress is not having a crystal ball to know if you're gonna win or not," he said. "But every year the players get warned, especially the guys that haven't been in it [about tickets]. It can be really aggravating, time-consuming and distracting. You have people asking, and at the last minute they cancel. So they've been warned."
Roster rundown: The Cardinals still hadn't announced their series roster as of Monday afternoon, but La Russa said there would be no surprises.
That likely means it will break down as follows: four starting pitchers (Woody Williams, Jason Marquis, Matt Morris and Jeff Suppan); seven relievers (Jason Isringhausen, Julian Tavarez, Cal Eldred, Kiko Calero, Dan Haren, Ray King and Steve Kline); eight starting position players (Mike Matheny, Albert Pujols, Tony Womack, Rolen, Edgar Renteria, Reggie Sanders, Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker) and six reserves (Yadier Molina, John Mabry, Marlon Anderson, Hector Luna, Roger Cedeno and So Taguchi).
Umpires: Major League Baseball announced the umpiring crews for the Division Series on Monday. Working the St. Louis-Los Angeles series will be crew chief Gerry Davis, Dale Scott, Greg Gibson, Chuck Meriwether, Bruce Dreckman and Brian O'Nora. Davis is a 21-year veteran who will be working his fifth Division Series. For Scott and Meriwether, it is the sixth Division Series.
Runners-up, again: A day after they came within one point of leading the National League in ERA, it was announced that the Cardinals finished second in another pitching race. Isringhausen tied for second place in the race for the NL Rolaids Relief Man Award, while the Cardinals bullpen finished second in the Majors for the Rolaids Team Bullpen title. St. Louis amassed the most points in the NL, finishing second only to the Yankees.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.