Refusing to settle for excellence


Image Credit: David J. Phillip/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

At the risk of coming off as a tad overzealous in my support of the Cardinals, I’d like to explore the multitude of reasons that they’re going to dominate the National League Central Division in 2014. Regular readers of Redbird Rants regard (Alliteration!) such predictions as the expected norm, but rest assured that I’m not making such bold proclamations for the fun of it — the Cardinals really are going to run away with the division this year.

That’s not news to most of you, and last week I explored the fact that in many ways the Cardinals are overrated. That said, even if I’m just the next in line to do so, let me say it no uncertain terms — the Cardinals are so much better than the rest of the their division that if they miss the playoffs this year, pigs will take the place of F-15s for the stadium flyovers. It’s just not going to happen. Regardless of the fact that baseball, like most other things in life, is largely absent the presence of a “sure thing”, the Cardinals winning the Central this year really is a foregone conclusion.

Yes, it’s like death, taxes, and Yadier Molina being criminally underrepresented in the MVP balloting. No, I don’t want a chance to walk back such a grandiose statement. This season is not like a box of chocolates — we know exactly what we’re going to get.

Don’t get me wrong , the Pirates and Reds are both solid teams with a lot of promise — I just don’t see any scenario in which either of them could possibly win more games than the Cardinals do. It’s not necessarily that I even buy into a lot of the hype surrounding the superiority of the Cardinals “elite” players, but more a matter of the fact that they have absurd levels of depth all across the board. To be sure, they do have some of the best high-level talent in the game — but I’m more interested in the fact that they could lose every player that will start for them later today to injury and still contend for the pennant.

Think about it — if every starter really was injured, their lineup would likely contain a core of the following players (even if they couldn’t all take the field at the same time)

1 – Jon Jay

2 – Mark Ellis

3 – Oscar Taveras

4 – Stephen Piscotty

5 – Randal Grichuk

6 – Shane Robinson

7 – Daniel Descalso

8 – Tony Cruz

And the rotation would look something like:

1-Michael Wacha

2 – Shelby Miller

3 – Lance Lynn

4 – Joe Kelly

5 – Carlos Martinez

Would that make them the best team in the league? Maybe not. But would they still be a team that could beat the opening day lineups for most of the league? Absolutely. Make no mistake — the Cardinals are deep enough to warrant unbridled enthusiasm from the St. Louis faithful.

Of course, not every starter is going to be lost for the season because of injury, and as things stand right now, the Cardinals will have a stocked AAA team waiting to be mined for call-ups throughout the season. In fact, the Memphis Redbirds will have an outfield consisting of Taveras, Piscotty, and Grichuk — all three of whom could easily be playing (if not starting) for almost any team in baseball in the majors. In other words, the Cardinals are such a scary combination of good and deep that they don’t have room to let MLB-ready players even sit on the bench.

The Cardinals are primed to dominate the Central this year, whether that fact angers some people, or not. The Reds and Pirates would both be able to contend for a division title in pretty much any other division in baseball, but neither one has the necessary tools to beat such a talented and deep pitching staff as the one the Cardinals possess. Are the Cardinals best pitchers going to lose some games to their rivals this year? Duh. But if the Cardinals get around 100 starts this year from Adam Wainwright, Wacha, and Miller what are the chances they lose more than 65 games over the course of the season? Pretty low, I would think.

In one of my classes during my Senior year of college, there was a sign that I’d seen many times before, and but never really taken the time to ponder. The message, which I’m sure many of you have heard before, was “Perfection is our goal – Excellence will be tolerated”. That message is, I’m quite certain, very closely related to the one that Mike Matheny is attempting permeate his clubhouse with as this season begins. A team that is inherently excellent doesn’t need to settle for attaining excellence — they don’t need to settle at all.

What lies in front of the Cardinals is an opportunity. An opportunity in which excellence is no better than failure. The Cardinals need to do something truly great with this opportunity.

They need to refuse to settle for excellence.