Three MLB Teams That Could Become This Year's Cardinals
By now, everyone knows the story of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. A team that was virtually out of the playoff race, they went on an amazing run via a combination of skill and good timing to eventually win the World Series. Few people had the team even making the playoffs at this time last year.
Although what the Cardinals did isn't necessarily likely to be replicated anytime soon, that doesn't mean an underdog can't rise up and make some noise this season. This may be truer than ever, considering the new format of the Wild Card games. Two teams will now face off in a one-game Wild Card playoff, and the winner of that team will get a chance to make a run for the ages. Again, it's unlikely that another heavy underdog will make that leap, but a few teams right now have that look.
The first team that has to be on a lot of fans' radars is the Los Angeles Angels. Although July was a relatively ho-hum month for the Angels, there are several reasons to be optimistic. Most notably, the team just acquired right-handed pitcher Zach Greinke. In trading for the former Brewer, the Angels have strengthened their bullpen significantly. Between Greinke, Weaver and the rest of their stable of pitchers, the Angels appear well-positioned to take on any team in the postseason.
On top of this acquisition, the Angels also just had Vernon Wells come off of the DL. Although Wells has essentially lost his job to the sudden superstar Mike Trout, his presence is still going to be beneficial to the team. He'll be used sparingly, but will provide good insurance in case a player in front of him in the lineup should go down with an injury. Add in the fact that the team also has slugger Albert Pujols, who led that 2011 Cardinals team to the championship, and no one should be writing off the Angels just yet.
However, the Angels catching fire in the postseason would be contingent on the team winning their Wild Card game. That's no short order, considering that right now the team is scheduled to face the Oakland Athletics - a team that may be gearing up for a memorable run of its own. Some of the team's best baseball came during the month of July, as the A's went an impressive 19-5, knocking off the Yankees four times in a row and winning two of three contests against the Texas Rangers. They've gotten consistent pitching from Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, but the production in the batter's box from Josh Reddick and others also shouldn't be overlooked.
Finally, moving away from the American League, the Braves might be the National League team that looks best suited to surprise. The club had a setback when rising star Brandon Beachy went down with an injury requiring Tommy John surgery, but they've managed to continue to rack up victories in his absence. The team was looking to acquire former Cub Ryan Dempster to fill the his void, as well as the make up for the lack of production from struggling pitcher Jair Jurrjens, but the proposed trade ultimately fell short. Despite questions about how well their bullpen can hold up its end of the deal, the Braves managed to put together an impressive July where the team went 18-8 and won their last 7 ball games.
Surprise successes aren't always the case in sports, but Major League Baseball has certainly made the prospect of one more enticing with the new Wild Card format. An extra team in each league has a chance in the playoffs now, and that can only be seen as a positive. Incumbents like the Yankees and Rangers are fun to watch, but if one of these Wild Card teams manages to keep it together in the postseason, the whole baseball world will be on notice.
About the Author: Don Phan is an avid baseball fan and maintains a growing collection of sports collectibles as a hobby. His top baseball moment is sitting in the PNC Suites at Wrigley Field in 2012 with free food and drinks all game long.