Young Cardinals playing beyond their years
Emerging talents proving they belong in bigs, expect to get even better
MILWAUKEE -- "Young" on some teams means inexperienced, raw, prone to erratic performance, a work in progress.
On the St. Louis Cardinals, "young" means that the player in question is exceptionally good now. But he could get even better later.
The topic occurred naturally enough Monday night at Miller Park, where a succession of young Cardinals pitchers took on the Milwaukee Brewers. Shelby Miller, 22, had given up just one earned run in the two previous victories over Milwaukee.
Miller was good enough to win Monday night. He had relief help when he needed it in the sixth inning from Seth Maness, 24, who entered with two on, one out, and kept the score at 4-2.
Michael Wacha, 22, took over in the seventh. He had a throwing error that contributed to a Milwaukee run, and then allowed a two-run homer to Aramis Ramirez. These young Cardinals are extraordinarily good, but that shouldn't be confused with perfect.
The Cardinals, as they will do, came back in a big way. In the eighth, they recorded six straight two-out hits, scoring four runs. The first of those six hits was by rookie second baseman Kolten Wong, 22. Wong was playing in just his fourth big league game. Wong had gone 0-for-10 to begin his Major League career, but he produced two infield hits, stole two bases and scored the tying run in the winning rally.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Cards turned to lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist, 24. He recorded three straight outs.
The story line seemed to demand an appearance by Trevor Rosenthal, 23, who has been a bullpen stalwart for this club. But he was being rested, and closer Edward Mujica got the conventional call in the ninth inning. Mujica, practically from another generation at age 29, gave up two hits but no runs for the save.
It all added up to an 8-5 victory, hard-earned, richly deserved for the Redbirds.
Opponents don't talk primarily about the Cardinals' youth. They're generally impressed more by the quality of this squad, rather than its demographics.
"They can really swing the bats," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Their pitching staff is good. And their defense is good. There aren't many holes there."
The Brewers have been forced to utilize a large number of young players because of injuries. When this was noted to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, he responded:
"We've got a lot of young players. We have as many as anybody. I don't see us being in that much different of a situation."
When it was suggested to Matheny that most of his young players were pitchers, the manager replied: "They're equally important."
No argument is necessary there. The outstanding performance of the young Cardinals has come to be expected by now. But that doesn't make it any less outstanding.
"It's a lot to put on a young player," Matheny said. "You know, Kevin Siegrist steps in there and pitches [in the eighth] in a situation he really hasn't pitched in before. We had some nice defense behind him, but he came in attacking the strike zone, doing a nice job after we got some runs.
"Seth Maness is mature beyond his years and beyond his experience. Plus, he's got good stuff. He relies on location and movement and he knows how to use it in the [strike] zone and when to expand the zone. Plus, he's learning the league. As impressive as his stats were in the Minor Leagues, you can see why up here.
"This is an atmosphere that I think is very good for a young guy. They're constantly being taught something, either from the coach staff, or, more importantly, from the players. They all feel like they're a big part of this. It's not like they're trying to earn their stripes. They're trying to earn a championship."
Wong is one of the Cardinals' top prospects, which is saying a lot. Before the game, Matheny said he told Wong not to be concerned about his hitless start.
"You can tell he's a conscientious kid who's thinking a lot about his whole game," the manager said. "He wants to come in here and make an impact, and he has. We just keep telling him: 'Keep going about it. You've had a lot of success by playing your game. That game will play here, too.' "
And Monday night, there was Wong's leg hit that started the winning rally.
"That was a spark," Matheny said. "It was a pretty good example of what we were hoping for."
"That's what they brought me up here for was to get on base, so the guys behind me could drive me in," Wong said. "That's my goal, that's what I try to go up there every time trying to do. You know it's huge when I was able to get on base and kind of spark the guys.
"This team is so good right now that once you get on base, you open doors for other guys to get through."
Add another 22-year-old to an already impressive crop of young, talented and winning Cardinals. It is an impressive thing when one organization has this much young talent. It is an even more impressive thing when that young talent can win in the big leagues.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.