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How great is Yadier Molina? (and some other things)
Well, you might know them if you're a Cardinals fan. Or if you're a devoted citizen of Baseball Nation. But if you're just beginning to get acquainted with most of the teams in Major League Baseball's championship tournament, you just might learn some interesting facts and whatnot as we work our way through all 10 of the Chosen Clubs (but not Cubs).
First, your St. Louis Cardinals ...
- Hey, we're not sure how it happened, but Yadier Molina has become one of the best players in the National League, with an outside shot at the Hall of Fame someday. In his first four full seasons in the majors, Molina posted a 76 OPS+, barely good enough for even an outstanding defensive catcher (which he was, and is). In the four seasons since, though? Molina's at 112, including a brilliant 137 mark this season. Maybe this is as good as Molina gets ... but then again, we might have said the same thing after his fine 2011 campaign.
- It looked like the Cardinals might be in trouble when every-day shortstop Rafael Furcal went down in late August with a season-ending injury. But the Cardinals summoned young Pete Kozma from the minors, and he batted .333 (with power and walks!) in 24 games. Is the former first-round draft pick for real? In his Triple-A career over 243 games, Kozma's got a .223 batting average. So no, he probably is not. With the bat, anyway.
- How badly do the Cardinals miss Albert Pujols? Last season they led the National League in scoring; this season they're second in the league. Last season their first basemen (mostly Pujols) ranked third in the National League in OPS; this season they're third in the league. So how badly do they miss Pujols? Maybe just a little.
- The Cardinals' starting pitchers don't seem to have missed ex-manager Tony La Russa (retired) or ex-pitching coach Dave Duncan much. Last season the Cardinals' starters finished eighth in the league with a 3.81 ERA; this year they're third, at 3.62. And the relief corps has held steady, ranking ninth in ERA this season after finishing 11th last season (that last figure surprised the hell out of me, by the way).
- Let me leave you with this ... Leaving aside the Yankees, no franchise has been anywhere close to as successful as the Cardinals in recent years. This marks their ninth postseason appearance in the last 13 seasons. And they've got just one losing season in that span.