How did this happen? The Cards were the last team to make it into the playoffs, almost blowing a 7 1/2-game lead during the final week of the regular season and backing into the post-season thanks to a Houston Astros loss to the Atlanta Braves on the last day of the season. The team's pitching staff and bullpen has been suspect all year long, but finally showed up for the playoffs. During the post-season, Now, St. Louis has essentially a three-man rotation set to face the best pitching staff of the American League and a rejuvenated bullpen that has been superb during the two post-season faceoffs.
As for offense, well, there hasn't been much during the playoffs. The two best bats on the Cardinals staff right now are those of So Taguchi, a benchwarmer outfielder who was 4-for-4 as a pinch-hitter (including two home runs), and Molina, a .216 hitter who has suddenly turned into Johnny Bench. The big gun, Albert Pujols, is ailing with a sore hamstring, center fielder Jim Edmonds is getting shots in the ball of his foot before every game so he can actually play without pain, third baseman Scott Rolen, also plagued by injury, hasn't swung the bat well for a long time, although he looked better last night (robbed of a home run by Mets left-fielder Endy Chavez, then lining a single in the ninth inning that ended up being the winning run), and Juan Encarnacion hasn't produced much at the plate, either.
Yet, somehow, it's all come together. No matter what you say about Cards manager Tony LaRussa and his trusty sidekick, pitching coach Dave Duncan (and believe me, I've said a lot about them both this season), give them credit. They've pulled all the right strings this post-season. I don't see how LaRussa could motivate anyone out of a wet paper bag, but he apparently does it. And despite the way Duncan has handled young pitchers (poorly), he's done an amazing job with wash-up veterans like Jeff Weaver. As a commenter on Baseball Musings put it: "Jeff Weaver gets released by the Angels -- not even traded for a bucket of balls -- and now he'll be starting a World Series game for the Cardinals."
Go figure. It's just been that kind of season. Long, frustrating, struggling, and suddenly magical. Let's keep it going.