ST. LOUIS (AP) — Changing cast, same old hit show for the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the NL Championship Series for the fourth straight year, the Cardinals used just five players from their 2011 World Series champions in the just-completed four-game Division Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Sixteen players carried over from the roster in last year’s World Series loss to Boston.
“We wanted to make sure we could do this internally and have the depth to be successful and build from within,” general manager John Mozeliak said Tuesday night amid the ruckus of yet another champagne spraying celebration. “You’re seeing that pay off now.”
Fifteen of the 25 players active against the Dodgers were Cardinals’ amateur draft picks, the most among the 10 playoff teams. Along with the savings of carrying so much youth, there’s camaraderie, too, with players who came up together.
“We’ve got something special going on right now,” said leadoff man Matt Carpenter, a 13th-round selection in 2009. “Guys expect to win. It’s just real fun.”
The 23-year-old Shelby Miller made his first career postseason start in the clincher. He’s been a part of three postseason teams.
“Day in and day out, they tell us not to take it for granted,” Miller said. “This thing never gets old.”
Matt Adams, a 23rd-round pick in 2009, is in his first full season as the starting first baseman. Extra work hitting off the curveball machine paid off when he pounced on a Clayton Kershaw pitch for a go-ahead, three-run homer Tuesday.
Even the departure of three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols is helping. Besides using the compensation pick from the Los Angeles Angels to draft pitcher Michael Wacha with the 19th overall slot in 2012.
Mozeliak spent the money that otherwise might have gone to Pujols to fund a payroll that includes just four salaries of $8 million or more: ace pitcher Adam Wainwright ($19.5 million), All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday ($17 million), Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina ($15 million) and slugging shortstop Jhonny Peralta ($15 million).
“That’s why I signed with the Cardinals. For sure I want to be a champion,” said Peralta, among just three big league free agents on the 25-man roster.
Carpenter led a playoff power surge from a team which hit just 105 homers during the season — 29th in the majors and ahead of only Kansas City. He homered in each of the first three games against the Dodgers.
“I’m thinking Stan Musial is somewhere rolling around in that body,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Monday during an in-game TV interview with Fox Sports 1.
The Cardinals’ core includes several players who progressed rapidly through the farm system.
“We’ve had a couple of them that are high picks, a couple that have been guys that have flown in below the radar,” manager Mike Matheny said. “That’s pretty good motivation for the kids in our system. Let them know it’s not just the high picks that are going to get the looks.”
Lefty Marco Gonzales, a first-rounder in 2013, was 2-0 in relief in the division series. Wacha made his debut last season, less than a year after he was drafted, and became the NLCS MVP.
Rookie second baseman Kolten Wong (2011) and infielder Pete Kozma (2007) also were first-round picks, and Lance Lynn (2008) was a supplemental first-rounder.
Outfielder Jon Jay (2006) was a second-rounder, utilityman Daniel Descalso (2007) was taken in the third round and Molina (2000) was a fourth-round pick.
But closer Trevor Rosenthal was taken on the 21st round in 2009 with the 639th pick. Adams went two rounds later with the 699th selection.
Setup man Seth Maness was an 11th-rounder in 2011, Kevin Siegrist, nearly untouchable as a rookie, was a 41st-round afterthought with the 1,235th selection in 2009. Sam Freeman was a 32nd-round pick in 2008 and backup catcher Tony Cruz was a 26th-rounder in 2007.
Allen Craig (eighth round, 2006) and Joe Kelly (third round, 2009) were dealt in the trade to acquire John Lackey, who beat the Dodgers in Game 3. Rookie Randal Grichuk was a first-round Angels pick who’d been buried in their farm system.
Side-arming setup man Pat Neshek signed a minor league deal in February and emerged as a first-time All-Star.
Jason Motte (19th round, 2003) was the closer on the 2011 World Series title team and injured lefty Jaime Garcia (22nd round, 2005) won 13 games each of his first two seasons in 2010-11.
“A lot of luck,” Mozeliak said. “A lot of luck.”