ST. LOUIS — Rosters turn over so quickly these days, the St. Louis Cardinals used only seven players from their 2011 World Series roster in this year’s NL championship series.
The NL champions got contributions from 20 rookies this season, many in starring roles on a team that led the NL with 97 wins and then reached the World Series for the second time in three years.
General manager John Mozeliak sees little commonalities, pointing out the ‘11 team sneaked into the postseason as the second wild card and this year’s team that until now has had the home-field advantage.
“The good story line is you’ve got two teams that have the best records in the game matching up in the World Series,” Mozeliak said. “And I think that’s nice. A lot of times, that doesn’t work out.”
Lance Lynn is the only pitcher left from two years ago, joined against the Dodgers by position players Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso, David Freese, Matt Holliday and Jon Jay. Cleanup man Allen Craig, sidelined by a foot injury since early September, is expected to join them in the Series and would open as the DH.
The first time Craig would have to play first base is Game 3 Friday in St. Louis, and everyone’s optimistic especially given those extra rehab days. Craig’s .454 average with runners in scoring position led the majors, and aside from the Cardinals’ clinching 9-0 rout of the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS, the offense has struggled without him.
“He could be the difference,” Molina said. “I’m happy to have him back.”
When the Cardinals were swept by Boston in the 2004 Series, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal were in middle school.
Wacha was a first-round selection in June 2012 — the Cardinals’ compensation pick for losing Albert Pujols to the Angels in free agency — scaled the system quickly and has been phenomenal in the postseason at 3-0 with an 0.43 ERA. He’s been to Fenway Park once before, as a sophomore at Texas A&M playing for a college all-star team but didn’t play.
“It’s unbelievable, just the history,” Wacha said. “It’s Fenway, it’s an amazing ballpark and I just really look forward to getting to play there.”
St. Louis worked out Sunday after a day off to savor the NL pennant. They leave for Boston on Tuesday, and just a handful have firsthand experience of the ill-fated 105-win team that got swept by the Red Sox.
“That was one of the toughest experiences in my baseball career,” said manager Mike Matheny, who shared catching duties with Molina that year. “You don’t forget that.”
Matheny said the feeling was similar to the nausea he felt as a rookie manager in the 2012 postseason when the Cardinals took a 3-1 NLCS lead over the Giants and then got walloped three straight times, in his words “getting our lunch handed to us.”
“It’s a lot like what happened last year as we were standing in the rain watching San Francisco celebrate,” Matheny said. “Could we have done anything different? I don’t know. But it sure left a sharp bite.”
Ace Chris Carpenter was sidelined before that postseason with the first occurrence of a nerve injury that knocked him out all of this season. Carpenter still suits up but in a ceremonial role as a de facto bench coach.
Mozeliak was assistant GM under Walt Jocketty in ‘04 and remembered everything seeming rushed. The Cardinals beat the Astros in the NLCS, took batting practice at Fenway the next afternoon and then took the first of four lumps.
Off the field, manager Tony La Russa took issue with distant lodging and the “bar food” offered when they arrived at the hotel.
Molina was a 21-year-old rookie in 2004. This year, he’s in the conversation for MVP.
“Back then I was just a kid trying to learn,” Molina said. “I have a lot more experience.”
Carpenter is among four players from ‘11 that are still with the team but won’t be on the roster. Shortstop Rafael Furcal (elbow) also has been out the entire season, Jaime Garcia is rehabbing from midseason shoulder surgery and Jake Westbrook was rarely used the final month coming off elbow and back woes.
Putting Craig on the roster could come at the expense of rookie Kolten Wong, one of the team’s top prospects and the likely second baseman of the future.
“We don’t have that many extra guys around here that we’d be jostling around what our roster’s going to look like,” Matheny said.
Matheny announced Adam Wainwright, a 19-game winner who was injured in 2011, and Wacha as the starting pitchers for Games 1 and 2, but didn’t go further. Joe Kelly and Lynn are likely to go in Games 3 and 4, given Mozeliak anticipates rookie 15-game winner Shelby Miller will stay in the bullpen for emergency long relief duty.
Miller has pitched just one inning in the postseason and threw to Craig on Sunday.
“I think right now where he’s at, I think he’ll still be probably used as insurance,” Mozeliak said.