Man, the Major League Baseball playoffs are awesome.
The hockey team I’ve been watching choke every Spring my entire life just won the Stanley Cup four months ago. The title of “greatest sports championship of 2019” is already decided. And yet this doesn’t dull my excitement for what’s about to happen. It’s only been four years–not exactly an eternity by standards other than the absurdly high ones of St. Louis. But I’m excited for today.
The St. Louis Cardinals are, the last three years notwithstanding, one of the most consistently successful teams in the sport. And yet there are only six players currently on the Cardinals who were on the Cardinals team that won 100 games and the National League Central in 2015. There are only three Cardinals who have played in the World Series for a champion. For most of this team, this is a new experience. And I’m excited for all of my fun wonderful baseball sons.
I have a favorable-to-neutral opinion on every player on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster. I’m not rooting against Joe Hudson getting a World Series ring, but it admittedly isn’t a thing I specifically crave. But some players really stand out. Here are the ten players I’m most excited to imagine winning a World Series championship for the Cardinals this season.
10. Michael Wacha: What a strange career with the Cardinals Michael Wacha has had, a career that is almost certainly going to end following the playoffs. He may not even pitch much, if at all, in a World Series run (he’s very much on the NLDS roster bubble as of the time I wrote this sentence). But he had one of the greatest postseason runs in St. Louis Cardinals history, in 2013, and after being put in the impossible situation which saw him surrendering the season-ending home run to Travis Ishikawa in 2014, he deserves his first career World Series ring.
9. Kolten Wong: Quick–what’s the most famous Kolten Wong playoff moment? It’s one of two things–either the time he hit a freakin’ walk-off home run in the NLCS, or the time he got picked off first base in Game 4 of the 2013 World Series. A quick comparison–his home run improved the Cardinals’ odds of winning that game by 37%. The pickoff decreased the Cardinals’ odds of winning that game by…4%. The stupid pickoff play should be lost to history–imagine being a senior in high school and having to answer for something that happened when you were in sixth grade. That’s how long ago this was! Kolten Wong was one of the most important contributors to this postseason including the Cardinals and he has properly disposed of all haters. And if you’re still a hater, you’re amongst friends but also don’t ever talk to me again.
8. Paul Goldschmidt: In one of my favorite moments of 2019, Paul Goldschmidt was asked in an interview what his favorite food was and he said, “Plain hamburgers”, a fact which has not ceased to fascinate me in the months since it happened. He later clarified that his favorite burger is from Chili’s. I have never had a Chili’s hamburger, and I’m sure it’s totally competent tasting, but…that’s your favorite food? Was your favorite video game growing up that disc of demos that comes with the system? Is your favorite TV show “Local on the 8s” on the Weather Channel? All hail Paul Goldschmidt, who will for the next five years remain our Normcore Dad God. I look forward to seeing him duck out of the Budweiser and champagne-soaked championship celebration to drink precisely one beer and call 911.
7. Yadier Molina: No, Molina doesn’t need a ring–he has two already. But a third championship would be a welcome addition to the narrative case of Yadier Molina as a Hall of Famer. I don’t even really care if he makes the Hall of Fame, but being able to cite his not-one-not-two-but-three rings is a perfect troll to those who want to dismiss his Cooperstown qualifications without any discussion. Nobody’s happiness alienates more annoying people in the world than Yadier Molina’s.
6. Jack Flaherty: My list is mostly comprised of veterans, with Flaherty being easily the youngest guy on it. But Jack Flaherty has, for the last three months, been the best Cardinals pitcher I’ve seen since…maybe ever? Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, of course, did it longer, but in terms of just a sheer flash of dynamic dominance, Flaherty is tough to top. And while it’s easy to say “he’ll get his chance at a later date”, he’s a starting pitcher, and pitcher health is a fickle beast. If you told me he’d have Justin Verlander’s career–long, prosperous, and with a championship in his mid-thirties, I’d remove him from the list. But this man deserves a ring. NOW!
5. Marcell Ozuna: Although his departure isn’t as certain as that of Michael Wacha, there is a very real chance that Marcell Ozuna is playing his last month as a St. Louis Cardinal. It has been a pleasure to watch Ozuna play–let it never be said that the goofy weirdo’s ill-fated home run robbery against the Dodgers in April was less than a sign of absolute energy and commitment. And today, he plays in his first career postseason game. This guy clearly enjoys being a Cardinal and I enjoy watching him, even in the moment that the ultraviolence of his swings and misses can be a bit infuriating.
4. Adam Wainwright: Adam Wainwright won a title in 2006–you may remember his contributions. But he missed the 2011 World Series (and season) and thus has never won a World Series as a starting pitcher. On Sunday, Wainwright will become the first pitcher in franchise history with playoff starts a full decade apart. He is arguably the second greatest pitcher in St. Louis Cardinals history, and there is a very real possibility that he hangs it up after this season (I don’t think this is going to happen, but it’s absolutely possible given his age and contract situation).
3. Matt Carpenter: If you don’t count his 19 plate appearances in 2011 as “he won a World Series championship”, here is a comprehensive list of World Series-era players to accumulate more Wins Above Replacement as Cardinals without winning a World Series with the team: Ted Simmons, Johnny Mize, Ray Lankford, Ed Konetchy, Larry Jackson. If you exclude Mize, who won several championships in Not St. Louis, Carpenter is one of the five greatest Cardinals to never win a title. Let’s get my dude a ring, in a year where he was much-maligned but has rebounded nicely and figures to play a major role in a prospective championship run.
2. Carlos Martinez: It’s easy to forget that Carlos Martinez is a living tribute. In 2014, I think a lot of us assumed Carlos Martinez would be on the next Cardinals championship team, and we assumed #18 on that next winner would be Oscar Taveras. I’ve spent the last half-decade metally willing Carlos Martinez to greatness, and 2019 has been a professional setback for him, as he went from the team’s ace to begin 2018 to a reliever. But he’s been a good reliever and seeing him close out a World Series championship would be a delight.
1. Jose Martinez: It may seem weird to pick a bench player, and not even an especially good bench player. But I can assure you of this: I have never in my life seen somebody who more thoroughly enjoys being a St. Louis Cardinal than Jose Martinez. He projects the joy that I’d like to think I’d have the perspective to maintain if I were magically on the Cardinals. God bless him. Long live the bench mafia.