Ah, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Who doesn’t love an underdog story where a dark horse overcomes the odds to win it all? As heartwarming as a World Series victory for the Diamondbacks would be for many fans, their success could reinforce the "just get into the playoffs and anything can happen" mindset that the St. Louis Cardinals have adopted, to the growing disdain of fans.
The Diamondbacks ranked 19th in payroll entering 2023, but their relatively penny-pinching ways didn't stop them from making the playoffs in the expanded 12-team postseason format despite an underwhelming 84-78 record. The Cardinals have made no secret of the fact that their recipe for success is to finish in first place in the often mediocre National League Central division and hope that they can go on a hot streak in the postseason.
The Cardinals are a team resistant to change. We saw it this season, when their pitch-to-contact approach failed horribly after the defensive shift was banned. We've also heard about it in their lack of a high-tech pitching lab at the ballpark, which is common among other franchises. When the Cardinals find a method that works for them, they stick with it. The 2006 and 2011 championship teams finished 83-78 and 90-72, respectively, so the Cardinals front office naturally believes in its formula that 90 wins or even fewer would be enough for another title.
The Cardinals can't compare to the more cutting-edge Diamondbacks, as the Diamondbacks have leapfrogged the Cardinals in their ability to develop talent. Kevin Ginkel, Brandon Pfaadt and Merrill Kelly are three pitchers whose potential the Diamondbacks have managed to maximize, and they made shrewd deals that nabbed them players such as Paul Sewald and Gabriel Moreno. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have managed to deal away many of their young players in what have become quite lopsided trades in favor of the other teams, and the pitching development has been a nightmare to say the least.
The Cardinals' outdated model is not one that gives hope for much postseason success. More urgency is needed for the team to have a serious shot at another title, and the Diamondbacks' World Series opponent, the Texas Rangers, are the epitome of what that can look like.
The Rangers opened the season ranking ninth in payroll, and their spending on players such as Max Scherzer and Corey Seager has benefited them as the Rangers eye the championship trophy. There are some cautionary tales of throwing money around recklessly; the San Diego Padres and New York Mets are two examples of that, but it's not rocket science to see that teams that spend more tend to perform better than teams that spend less.
Despite this, the Cardinals will likely remain determined to utilize the playoffs' random nature to see if they can grasp a championship in the manner that they did their last two times. The front office will use all the right words to keep fans hoping for more aggressiveness in trades and on the free agent market, but the Diamondbacks' presence on baseball's biggest stage will just serve as another excuse for the Cardinals' front office to rely on horseshoes and four-leaf clovers in order to win in the playoffs.