St. Louis is headed back to the National League Championship Series for a third straight season after snuffing out the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates Wednesday night. No one besides Cardinals fans and jerks wanted St. Louis to advance, mostly because it meant ending Pittsburgh's first winning season in two decades.
The Cardinals and their fan base would have you believe the team is a gritty bunch of underdogs, a personification of America at its purest, finest form. They are wrong. And kind of pompous. And, generally, obnoxious about how lovable and fuzzy the supposedly unheralded Cardinals are. ("Baseball paradise!" "Best fans in baseball!")
Here's the truth: The Cardinals are the new Yankees, joyless overlords who will trample the league with their homegrown talent and "Gee, golly" demeanor — and there's nothing your puny team nor its suboptimal fans can do about it.
To be clear, the Cardinals are not today's Yankees, that bloated shipwreck with a payroll more than twice the league median. Rather, they're more like the dominant Yankees of the late '90s that won approximately 47 championships in a single decade.
Ok, the Cardinals aren't quite as oppressive as the Yankees of that era. Those Yankees won four titles in five years, and played in the World Series six times in an eight-year span, starting in 1996.
Still, St. Louis will play in their third straight NLCS this year, and their eighth since 2000. They've won two World Series in the past seven years, and are now eight wins from capturing a third.
Sure, they don't have the priciest team in baseball. But neither did the 1998 Yankees, regarded as one of the greatest teams ever assembled. (Oddly enough, the Orioles led baseball in '98 with a $71 million team.)
The Cardinals do, however, have a payroll well north of the league average, one that has grown by nearly $30 million over the past half decade. And ownership has said it plans to boost that figure even higher in coming years to retain their top players, pushing them ever closer to the front of the pack.
The Cardinals' roster also resembles that of the late-'90s Yankees, in that it's built heavily with homegrown pieces. The 1998 Yankees relied on farm system products Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams.
The Cardinals developed Albert Pujols (now of the Angels) and Yadier Molina into superstars, and won it all in 2011 thanks to breakthrough performances from prospects David Freese and Allen Craig. They've since brought up power-hitting first baseman Matt Adams, and second baseman Matt Carpenter, who led the league in hits, runs, and doubles this year.
Five of the team's eight position players on opening day were products of the St. Louis farm system, as were three of its five starting pitchers.
The Cardinals have the top farm system in all of baseball, according to Baseball America's pre-season rankings. Unlike the modern day Yankees, who have gutted their prospect pool to grab loaner players in the twilights of their careers, the Cardinals are stocked for the foreseeable future. They have the unique benefit of being both well-positioned to win now and win later.
The Cardinals are a dominant force in the National League, and they have all the young talent and money necessary to remain a predictable postseason presence for some time. They won't trash all of baseball like the Yankees once did, but as they keep steamrolling the competition, they — and their fans — are prone to become just as unlikable.
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