Opinions differ on experience factor

Opinions differ on experience factor

NEW YORK -- Four teams, one winner.

The Cardinals finished with the worst regular-season record, but have the most postseason experience among the four teams remaining. They've been to the National League Championship Series five times in the last seven years. The Mets, their opponents this week, have been this far just twice since 1988.

On the other side, the A's hadn't been to the American League Championship Series since 1990, and the Tigers hadn't been there since 1987.

"Sometimes excitement and experience helps carry players," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said as his team worked out on Tuesday at Shea Stadium for Game 1 of the best-of-seven NLCS on Wednesday night. "We've got a lot of experience over here, but they also do over there. [Mets manager] Willie [Randolph] has more experience than anybody."

Randolph has won the World Series six times -- twice as a player and four times as a coach with the Yankees. This is his first shot as a manager.

"This is something I've been waiting for, for a long time, personally," Randolph said.

Whether that past success will translate into wins in this series is as much conjecture as whether La Russa's nine times in the LCS (three with Oakland and six with the Cardinals) will have a similar effect. La Russa never made it big in the Major Leagues as a player and he won it all only once as a manager in four trips to the World Series -- 1989 with Oakland.

His Cardinals clubs have been to the World Series only once, in 2004, when the Red Sox swept them.

"Experience definitely helps," said Mets right fielder Shawn Green, who is back in the postseason for the second time after playing for the Dodgers against the victorious Cardinals in the NL Division Series two years ago. "No doubt about it. And that's something [the Cardinals] are looking at when it comes to defeating us. But I look at the momentum we have right now. That's what we have going for us."

Momentum seems to be a key in this format of the postseason as the Tigers proved in the first round against the vaunted Yankees. Once they got momentum in that just-concluded four-game series, they never relinquished it. And so, a team that has been to the postseason 12 consecutive times succumbed to one that hasn't won a World Series since 1984 and hadn't been to the postseason in 19 years.

Conversely, though the Cards finished with an 83-78 record -- the third-worst of any team to ever make it into the postseason -- they turned it on in the NLDS, vanquishing the playoff-bereft Padres in four games, while allowing only six runs.

Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen and Chris Carpenter have been the core of the Cards teams that played in the NLCS the last three seasons, although Carpenter missed the 2004 postseason with an injury and Rolen did the same last year.

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Edmonds also played for La Russa's teams that lost the NLCS in 2000 (to the Mets) and 2002 (to the Giants). Pujols was also a member of the 2002 team. Edmonds has 49 games of postseason experience, while Pujols has 41.

In addition, Scott Spiezio and David Eckstein played for the 2002 Angels, the AL Wild Card winner that came from nowhere to defeat the Giants and win the only World Series in the franchise's history.

For the younger Cardinals, making their initial journey deep into the postseason, all those experienced playoff veterans have to be a great source of support.

"I think so," said Spiezio, whose Game 6 homer in 2002 helped save that World Series for the Angels. "Some of the younger guys asked me questions about how the postseason was going to be beforehand. The best thing about the end of the season, even though we didn't play that great, it was kind of a playoff atmosphere. It came down to the wire. I was telling them, 'This is what playoff games are like.'"

The 2002 Angels are a perfect example of a young team congealing at the right time to make a run at the championship. Even though they won 99 games that season, the Angels went into the playoffs as a decided underdog to the Yankees, who were on a run of four AL pennants in a row.

But like the Tigers this postseason, the Angels came from behind to win Game 2 at Yankee Stadium and stunned the Bombers in four games.

"We have veteran leadership," said Eckstein, comparing this year's Cardinals with the '02 Angels, who were back in the playoffs for the first time since 1986. "That having been said, I was in Anaheim with a hungry club that was able to do it. That club over there [the Mets] is in the same situation."

It's why baseball analysts believe that playoff experience loses to playoff momentum every time.

"Discount all that experience stuff," said Tim McCarver, a FOX analyst who was the starting catcher on the 1964 Cardinals team that won the World Series. "It makes no difference. None. All these guys have had enough big-game experience that the theory holds no water, as far as I'm concerned."

"Experience doesn't mean a thing," said Buck Martinez, who managed Team USA in this year's World Baseball Classic and is an analyst for XM satellite radio. "Look back to the 2002 Angels and the 2003 Marlins. It just matters who gets hot and who's pitching well at the time. This generation of ballplayers is such that they don't pay too much attention to history."

What they pay attention to is taking advantage of the opportunity because it may come that way again.

Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado is in the postseason this year for the first time after playing in 1,710 regular-season games. Ditto Cliff Floyd, who had only two hitless at-bats for Florida in the 1997 World Series to show for his first 1,415 regular-season games.

"You can't underestimate the experience the Cardinals have," Delgado said. "By the same token, if you sit back and say, 'We've been here five times in the last seven years' and don't play the games, it's not going to get you anywhere."

"They have a lot [of experience]," Floyd said. "But winning solves a lot of problems. We won three games in a row [in the NLDS over the Dodgers] and believe it or not, that's important at this particular time. Their experience might help [the Cardinals] a little bit preparation-wise. But it doesn't help you win games."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.