Once rivals, the Astros and Cardinals oceans apart
Watching playoff baseball brings back so many memories, good and bad but Astros playoff memories nevertheless. That said, watching the Cardinals have another strong playoff run made me think. What went wrong? Well, we know how it happened but weren’t these two franchises on even ground and battling year after year for the central division and eventually NL pennants? I mean, weren’t the Astros about to pull off another historic comeback in 2006 until the darn Braves got in the way? Oh, how times have changed and the ‘Stros are in the midst of a huge rebuilding plan while the Cardinals keep on winning. Even losing an icon like Albert Pujols doesn’t seem to stop their momentum.
St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist (left) and manager Mike Matheny (center) and bench coach Mike Aldrete (right): Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
We all know the story, Uncle D let the farm system go in the toilet, hired a bunch of yes-men and those men used his money poorly. Bottom-line; that ended the rivalry, but how have the Cards stayed so competitive for so long? How are guys like Descalso, Kozma and Lohse helping the Cards do what they do? Well, they’ve been smart in their Free Agent signings and may have gotten immensely lucky last offseason. Their organization has simply been better run and more efficient in running their team. Carlos Beltran was a huge signing, as was Lance Berkman the year before and Kyle Lohse before that.
So it was zero surprise when Jim Crane and George Postolos went out to the Cardinals front office to find the man who could bring the ‘Stros back from the grave. Jeff Luhnow helped build the current Cardinals squad with good to great drafts and helped establish the Cardinals minor league system as one to be recognized year in, year out. We’ve all heard what he’ll do and seen what he has done already so I won’t go into that portion of the plan but just from how Luhnow has run the ‘Stros, the effects on the current Cards are obvious. It’s been obvious for years and it has kept going for as long as he was there.
Given the fact the Astros will be in the American League from here on out, the next incredible important matchup between the two will most likely be in the World Series within a few years. While there will be inter-league games, from time to time, those won’t have the same importance of those classic matchups during the early to mid 2000s. Remember Jeff Bagwell going deep in St Louis in 2001 to help the ‘Stros defeat an old friend in Daryl Kile to clinch the NL Central title? How about 2004 and 2005 battles along with the classic 4 game sweep by the ‘Stros in 2006 that almost set the stage for an incredible comeback. A lot of great memories that have been washed away by a nice extortion job and the ‘Stros own bad management techniques while the Cardinals held up their end of the bargain, too bad the Astros did not.