Matt Carpenter (13) congratulates Cardinals teammates Pete Kozma and… (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images )
ST. LOUIS -- When the St. Louis Cardinals took the field for Game 7 of last year’s World Series, they had Albert Pujols at first base, Ryan Theriot at second, Rafael Furcal at shortstop, Skip Schumaker in center field and Lance Berkman in right field.
None of those five position players were in the lineup for St. Louis in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, which the Cardinals lead, three games to two, after a 5-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants.
Pujols, as you might have heard, left for the Los Angeles Angels. Theriot plays for the Giants. Berkman and Furcal are injured, and Schumaker is on the bench.
That the Cardinals have not only survived but prospered is testament to a strong player development system. Although they dangled figures with lots of zeroes before Pujols, they did not respond to his departure by throwing all that money in another direction.
They signed one free agent, outfielder Carlos Beltran. Then they looked to the same system that had delivered third baseman and World Series MVP David Freese, outfielder Jon Jay and infielders-outfielders Schumaker and Allen Craig.
The newest homegrown stars this October include infielders Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma and infielder-outfielder Matt Carpenter, who replaced the injured Beltran in Game 3 and homered off Giants ace Matt Cain.
The Cardinals do not offer a rebuilding environment. They demand immediate results even from their young players, and Jay traces the success in the major leagues to success in the minors.
“A lot of organizations talk about development, and they don’t care about winning,” Jay said Friday. “But I think it was instilled in us from the beginning that is about winning.
“We were double-switching and pinch-hitting in the minor leagues, where a lot of organizations will let you stick out the whole situation.”
Freese said the development process is mental as well as physical, particularly when fatigue sets in late in a minor league summer.
“They teach us to fight through that and come to the park every day trying to win a ballgame,” he said. “When you focus on that, your fatigue kind of gets thrown out the window and you understand what’s important. You learn to win.
“You get up here … it’s so much harder than triple-A. You’ve got to learn the ropes. And it starts with wanting to win.”
The Cardinals are trying to win their 12th World Series, more than any team except the New York Yankees. They also are trying to become the first National League team to win the World Series in consecutive years since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.
The Reds’ position players in 1975 and 1976? All the same.
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