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Young St. Louis Cardinals didn't win, but they surely did impress

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

Cards (USATSI)
The taste of defeat is bitter for the Cards, but sweet success is in their future. (USATSI)

BOSTON -- The Cardinals couldn't stop David Ortiz.

But they did impress him.

He was the guy getting all the hits in this World Series. He was the biggest reason they left Fenway Park miserable after Game 6, the biggest reason this World Series slipped away from them.

But there he was at the end, talking about them.

"I feel sorry for the St. Louis Cardinals when they have to sign all of them at once," Ortiz said after Wednesday night's clinching 6-1 Red Sox win. "They're going to have to bring a lot of money to the table, because you have a whole bunch of cats out there performing at that level on that stage. You're dealing with an unbelievable pitching staff.

"I tell you what, man, those guys, they're legit."

They are legit, the group that includes Game 6 starter Michael Wacha but also so many others, from Joe Kelly to Trevor Rosenthal to Carlos Martinez and more.

They're legit. The Cardinals are legit.

And even though this World Series goes down as a big loss, this Cardinals season lives on as a significant win. The young players produced, even if the young hitters stopped producing at the end.

The young talent brought the Cardinals a long way, even if it couldn't bring them the final two wins.

"I'm not hanging my head," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We've got a good team, and we've got a young team."

Mozeliak's Cardinals have become an October mainstay. They won the World Series two years ago, and they fell a win shy of getting back when they lost Game 7 to the Giants last year.

They've revamped their team by building from within, and as Mozeliak said late Wednesday night, what they accomplished this year proved that the youth movement is working.

They missed out on another championship, because they ran into an outstanding Red Sox team having a special season, and because a team that had crazy success with runners in scoring position during the season couldn't sustain it through October.

The Cardinals hit a ridiculous .330 with runners in scoring position this season (no other team was above .282). They hit a back-down-to-earth .214 with runners in scoring position in this World Series, including .143 (3 for 21) in the final three games, all losses.

They had more hits than the Red Sox in the final game (9-8), and more hits than the Red Sox in the entire Series (45-41). But the Red Sox were the ones with the big hits, as few of them as there were for either team.

The Cardinals will look at it as opportunity lost, but the fact is they were outplayed. Even their two World Series wins came with the help of Red Sox mistakes.

But they also led the World Series two games to one just four days ago. They led two games to one, and they had two more games at Busch Stadium, where they hardly ever lose.

They led, and they lost, and they'll remember that.

"Right now, it sucks, to get here and lose," Daniel Descalso said. "We did a lot of good things this year, but right now it's tough to think about that."

It will get easier in the days and months to come, especially when the Cardinals start thinking about 2014. They know that many of those good things they did this year will help lead them into next year, because most of the players that did them will be back.

Carlos Beltran is the most significant free agent. The Cardinals would like to keep him, but won't be surprised if they lose him to a team willing to pay more.

The rest of the key Cardinals are all under control, especially those outstanding young pitchers.

Mozeliak and his staff set out a few years back to build a team from within. They allowed Albert Pujols to leave as a free agent (and turned the draft pick they got back for him into Michael Wacha). They did a better job developing pitchers than anybody, and a pretty good job developing position players, too.

"I couldn't imagine we'll have a lot [of turnover this winter]," Mozeliak said. "You look at this team. It could look a lot like it does right now from next year forward."

It looked good this year, especially the young pitchers like Wacha and Kelly and Rosenthal and Martinez. It looked good, with hitters like Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter.

"It stinks to get this far and lose," said Jason Motte, the closer who missed most of the season after Tommy John surgery. "But a lot of these guys came up and showed what they're capable of."

As the Red Sox were celebrating on the field, Motte was going around the Cardinals clubhouse.

"I told all of these guys that they're fun to watch," he said.

The Cardinals were fun to watch. Some of them were even fun to watch in this World Series, although that goes more for the pitchers than for the hitters.

They should be fun to watch in the years to come.

Oh, and Ortiz is right. As fun as they will be to watch, eventually they won't be easy to sign.

That's for the future, though, for long into the future.

First, the Cardinals will try to make sure that this World Series is just the start for this group. Some of them were part of the 2011 team that won, and some were part of the 2012 team that lost in Game 7 to the Giants.

Some just got here this year, and the Cardinals promise that there are more to come.

They can keep this group together. And they expect this group to get back here again.

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