MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

NLCS a regular autumn stop for Cardinals

NLCS a regular autumn stop for Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Only one Major League team has been to a League Championship Series in each of the last four years. Hint: Its uniforms feature birds on bats.

Yes, the St. Louis Cardinals are here again, in the National League Championship Series, their regular October spot. Tonight, they open against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium (7 p.m. CT on FOX).

The Giants, winners of two World Series in the past four years, are not exactly postseason neophytes themselves. In fact, they defeated the Redbirds in the 2012 NLCS, in a remarkable comeback from a 3-1 deficit.

  Date Recaps Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

But this is about the Cardinals' admirable and consistent level of postseason achievement. They are 2-1 in the last three NLCS, and 1-1 in the ensuing World Series. More than any team over the last four Octobers, the Cardinals have become part of the postseason landscape.

"For them to be playing [in the NLCS] for a fourth consecutive time, that's impressive," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said on Friday. "That's incredible. I really compliment them on their success."

Apart from their indisputable level of talent, what puts the Cardinals ahead of the vast majority of teams? What makes them constant visitors to this level of achievement?

Adam Wainwright, the Game 1 starter for the Cards, has pitched on five St. Louis teams that reached the postseason -- including two World Series winners. He typically has insight to share.

"I know there are a lot of guys in the clubhouse that show up with the expectation and the preparation to win every time," Wainwright said Friday at Busch Stadium. "And to a certain level, certain degree, when you win a few times, it gives you more confidence going forward. You believe that you're going to get it done, because that's what you do.

"I think the guys in that clubhouse maybe have an edge, because we've done it. Largely a lot of the same guys that have been here since 2011, that saw us go through that, and Yadier Molina and I have been here since '06 and seen those winning clubs as well, we've had some history in the postseason. We have had some success, and that gives us some confidence."

For all the speculation this October about the Nationals, who had the best record in the NL, and the Dodgers, who supposedly had the most star power, the two teams in this NLCS have, in fact, set themselves apart when it comes to recent postseason success. Why?

"I don't know how to put that without making 13 other teams mad in the National League," Wainwright said. "It's a tricky thing. But I do really believe when you get through the postseason, you win a couple of tough series, it gives you a greater edge and confidence going into the next time you're in the postseason.

"And the Giants have, obviously, like we have, put themselves in positions to be in the postseason over the years. They have great pitching, they have winning players over there. And when you have that confidence that you're going to get the job done, you a lot of times do get the job done."

The Giants are 7-0 in postseason series with Bochy as manager. The Cardinals are 4-2 in postseason series with Mike Matheny as manager. What separates the best postseason teams from the rest?

"I don't think it's any secret, I think in the postseason it's a matter of getting hot at the right time, making the big plays, getting the big hits," Matheny said. "Those eluded us often this season.

"When you get to this time of year, Bruce and his staff are preaching the same thing we are on our side -- that the experience does matter. Guys not just being in the postseason, but having success in the postseason sets a level of expectation and a sense of being there before that I think can be a very calming influence to the younger players.

"But when it all comes down to it, it's about execution, and fortunately we're both in a spot now where we've been able to move forward by just doing a little bit more than the other guy."

And so, October is once again a Cardinal time of year. The St. Louis club will be playing for the NL pennant for the fourth straight October. That would be a splendid accomplishment in any era. In this era of competitive balance, it is a gemstone-quality organizational achievement.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.