Everyone contributes to Cards' success
Total team effort cuts unlikely path to NLCS for St. Louis
PHILADELPHIA -- For a team that, at various times this year, had just about everything go wrong, it was a pretty remarkable week. The Cardinals dispensed the Phillies in five games in their National League Division Series not because of any one player or any one unit. They did it with everything going right at one time or another.
The Cards won Game 2 behind a relentless offense and some superb bullpen work. They won Game 4 with a strong start from Edwin Jackson and a couple of big hits from David Freese. They won Game 5 behind their ace, Chris Carpenter, and with scintillating defense. If the mark of a good team is having multiple ways to win games, well, then this is a pretty good team.
"Everybody contributed for us to be here today," said Albert Pujols, who was 7-for-20 with three doubles in the series. "Game 4 was David Freese. Game 2 was me with a base hit. And tonight, it was the big ace, Carp, going against Roy [Halladay]. We knew it was going to be tough."
The Cardinals didn't rack up the runs, but they hit well -- especially considering the quality of the pitchers they were facing. They twice scratched out early leads against Halladay, the game's best pitcher. Even in defeat, the Cards forced Cole Hamels to throw nearly 120 pitches in six innings. And they had big nights against Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee.
They feature a deep lineup, with threats throughout, increasing the pressure on even a staff like the Phillies'.
Yet the Redbirds didn't exactly bash their way to wins. They hit enough, but it wasn't beer-league softball. They also got, for the most part, very strong starting pitching. Carpenter struggled a bit on short rest, and Kyle Lohse might have been asked to get one or two batters too many. But overall, despite playing three games at the hitters' haven of Citizens Bank Park, the starters excelled.
And then there's that revamped bullpen, which became quite a weapon after the club's late-July trades. Jason Motte threw gas to close out the first two wins, and manager Tony La Russa played matchups in Games 2 and 4. Ten of the 11 pitchers on the roster appeared, and five relievers pitched in three games each.
Yet, perhaps the most striking aspect of the Cards' success was defense. If there was one area for which the Redbirds were maligned all year, it was catching the ball. And here they were in Game 5, getting key play after key play -- from Rafael Furcal, from Jon Jay, from Yadier Molina, from Nick Punto.
It's defense that is often exposed in October, tripping up otherwise solid teams. If the Cards continue to catch the ball, they'll be in very good shape.
So in the end, there's not one reason the Cardinals are advancing. There are several, and that's excellent news going forward.
"The Cardinals are a good team," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "They've got a real good hitting club. And their starting pitching in this series was very good, and their bullpen did a better job and they were more consistent than they were during the season. They've got talent in their bullpen and they're consistent, but overall, they outplayed us."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.