Card have the upper hand

ASSOCIATED PRESS Carlos Ruiz checks his bat for holes after striking out to end the top of the fifth inning.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Carlos Ruiz checks his bat for holes after striking out to end the top of the fifth inning.
Posted: July 25, 2013

ST. LOUIS - Truth is, there is more than one way to build a World Series contender in the new economic landscape of major league baseball. A quick look at the Cardinals' 4-1 dispatching of the Phillies at Busch Stadium last night might have tempted you to conclude otherwise, but the easy narrative is not always the proper one. Or, at least, not the complete one.

Without a doubt, the method behind the Cardinals' considerable success this season offers a convenient and not altogether inaccurate contrast to the roster with which the Phillies have attempted to compete. In Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso and Matt Adams, the Cardinals feature five regular contributors who were drafted in the second round or later, each of them after a successful collegiate career. Against Jonathan Pettibone and the Phillies, they combined to go 6-for-16 with two runs and two RBI.

The Phillies have not had much success finding those types of hitters in recent years. But to regard the disparate nature of the two teams' lineups as some sort of tell-all is to ignore the fact that 2 years ago the Cardinals won the World Series with a lineup that featured four veterans who had been patched into the unit over the previous 2 years (Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Rafael Furcal, Ryan Theriot), along with homegrown fixtures Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina.

Against 22-year-old righthander Shelby Miller and the Cardinals' bullpen, Chase Utley went 3-for-4 and Jimmy Rollins had a double. Otherwise, failure did not discriminate, not between young (Dom Brown, 0-for-4) and old (Michael Young, 0-for-3), not between homegrown (Carlos Ruiz, 0-for-3) and newcomer (Delmon Young, 1-for-4).

On a night when the Braves and Nationals lost, the Phillies were again unable to make up ground. They are 49-51, seven games behind the Braves in the division, eight behind Cincinnati in the wild card before the Reds played the Giants in the second of two games on the West Coast.

"We're two games under .500, the team ahead of us keeps losing, and we can't gain any ground," manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's tough. It don't matter who you play, you've got to beat them. Like Walter Alston used to say, 'Yeah, we're playing a good team, we're getting ready to go play another good team, but we've got to win some games.' "

Comparing the Phillies' and Cardinals' pitching offers a similar tale to the two teams' hitters. Miller continued his dominance of the National League, holding the Phillies to three hits while striking out six and walking one in six scoreless innings. The No. 19 overall pick in 2009, Miller is one of a handful of young, homegrown Cardinals starters who have spent the season backing up Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook in the rotation. Again, though, we look back to 2011, when Westbrook, Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson were all added to the rotation via free agency or trade.

Really, the most substantial difference between the two teams on the field was the middle of their order. While the Phillies stuck with their core of once-dynamic stars, the Cardinals brought in Holliday and, more recently, Carlos Beltran - the first to complement Pujols, the second to replace him. Of course, Pujols helped them out by agreeing to a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels before 2012. Even at half of that amount, the deal would look just as tenuous as the one the Phillies currently have with Ryan Howard when you consider that Pujols is hitting a pedestrian .249/.323/.429 with 16 home runs in Anaheim. So good timing matters, too.

Baseball is an unpredictable game, and it is hard to build a blueprint for success that can account for the number of variables that are outside of an organization's control. Solid talent evaluation and development on the amateur side, sensible payroll management and creative roster maneuvering on the professional side, and a little bit of luck all the way around. That's the surest formula. The Phillies reaped the benefits from 2007 to 2011 (although an expanding payroll helped, too). Keep in mind, the Cardinals' win totals from 2006 to 2010 went like this: 83, 78, 86, 91, 86.

Last night, there was little doubt about the identity of the better team, even before the Phillies' bullpen whirled into action. While Miller dazzled, Pettibone walked three and allowed seven hits, finishing with three runs allowed in five innings. The Phillies had only five at-bats with runners in scoring position. They managed only two extra-base hits.

The result wasn't unexpected, but it also wasn't a referendum on some magical Cardinal Way. It was a team with better players beating a team with lesser ones.

DN Members Only : The Phillies will watch former Giants closer Brian Wilson work out.


On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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