How the Cardinals View the Pirates as Competitors

The general consensus among fans and media following the Pittsburgh Pirates is that there’s a large gap between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pirates. The Cardinals are seen as one of the best teams in the National League. They’re a team that does everything right, has very few weaknesses, and a team that will coast to winning the NL Central, along with a majority of the games against the Pirates.

Meanwhile, the view on the Pirates is that they will be lucky to win a Wild Card spot, that they’ve got no chance of competing against the Cardinals, and that there’s a huge disparity between the two teams. But do fans and media on the St. Louis side feel the same way?

Over the weekend, I was sent a message from a Cardinals fan on Twitter. The message simply said “how most of Cardinal Nation feels about Pirates“, along with a link to a column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That column, which can be read here, talks about the Pirates emerging as a worthy rival for the Cardinals.

The column included quotes from both Mike Matheny and Clint Hurdle talking about the respect they had for the other organization. While the view in Pittsburgh seems to be that the Pirates hope to one day be on the same level as the Cardinals, the view in this column says that the Pirates are already there as legit rivals. I think both sides would agree that the Cardinals have the edge right now, but the perception of the gap between the two teams seems smaller from the view of Cardinals fans and writers.

The column was written before Sunday’s series-deciding game, which the Pirates won to take the opening series 2-1. Last year the Pirates won the season series 10-9, then lost to the Cardinals in five games of a best of five NLDS. So far the results support the idea that these two teams are closer than a lot of people think.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Share This Post On
  • roberto

    Nice post Tim. The collective inferiority complex of Pirate fans sometimes makes it hard for folks to see what a strong organization the team has become. A view from the outside can be helpful.

    • emjayinTN

      r: It is not an inferiority complex, it is the realization that one year over .500 in the last 21 is not proof positive that we have arrived. I think we have the very best minor league talent in baseball, and an excellent collection of ballplayers/pitchers in MLB, but am I satisfied? No, it is a constant battle to stay up there in the Top 5 or 10 teams in baseball, and every team out there is hungry. It is a grind every day. The Cards are a perennial winner, and have one of the most supportive and intelligent fan bases in baseball – there is always room for improvement when you are compared to that organization.

      Let’s Go Bucs!!

      • lonleylibertarian

        Good response mj – we don’t always agree – but I think we agree that “settling” is not what makes for a winning org – contrast the Cards off season – tried to address two obvious weaknesses through trades and taking action – maybe not the brightest moves – but they DID SOMETHING. The Pirates sign Travis Ishikawa and Chris McGuiness and hope that Travis Snider can find some magic.

        • smurph

          Are you serious? First off, it looks like you might have to eat crow on the Volquez signing. They also signed a solid defensive backup catcher. Now let’s look at the changes the Cardinals made. They lost their best position player, a borderline HOFer (Beltran) to free agency. Two of their veteran starting pitchers – Carpenter & Westbrook, retired. They also lost Furcal and Mujica, who was their closer for much of last season. They signed Mark Ellis and the PEDs guy Perralta. They traded their 3rd baseman, Freese for Bourjos, probably an even up trade. And they filled the rest of their roster with younger players, admittedly talented young players. So tell me again about all the action the Cardinals did in comparison to the Pirates. Looks like a pretty similar path to the Pirates, except for one thing – the Cardinals lost a lot more talent than the Pirates did.

          • Y2JGQ2

            Well backup catcher wasn’t an area of weakness for us, so that addressed nothing, and beltran being a borderline HOF’er? Comeon Smurph, you are way too intelligent and a solid commenter to resort to that. Thats completely ridiculous. If Fred McGriff can’t get 40% of the vote, Carlos Beltran has a better chance of playing Santa Claus in “the santa claus 5: homeruns for Christmas” than getting voted in. We also had no “addition by subtraction” since we decided to resign Barmes and Westbrook was the epitome of this type of change

            • MattInMD

              While I get your point, Beltran scores at or near HoF caliber in 3 of the 5 categories that baseball-reference uses to “predict” who will get in.

              • lonleylibertarian

                Ok folks – take a step back – I agree that losing Beltran hurts the Cards – but they faced the same challenge the Pirates did with AJ – they could step up and overspend on him – and hope that the aging curves and injury probabilities are all wrong – or move some pieces around – they had no way to play Adams and Craig and Beltran at the same time – they had an even worse black hole at SS than the Pirates did – Barmes finished next to last thanks to Kozma. Carpenter is probably a better third baseman than he is a second baseman – and he is certainly better then Freese. And they had a rookie second baseman ready to see if he could cut it in the bigs.

                Jay is a butcher in CF – might be an OK 4th OF. So they try and get a “bridge” to Tavares in Bourjois – didn’t cost them anything they were planning on using – so far that is not working out.

                But I stand by may basic argument – the Cards were ACTIVE – tried to deal with the challenges they faced and solve them – the Pirates were in my view PASSIVE – lets sign a bunch of the stuff at the bottom of the dumpster [Ishikawa and the seven dwarfs] and hope something sticks – and see if Volquez [Sanchez II] works better than Sanchez I.

                So far so good – believe me – nobody could be happier than I am that Ishikawa is holding up his end of things and Volquez looks like he could be Liriano II at this point – but let’s check back at the All Star break before we do a lot of high fiving!

                • MattInMD

                  Okay, it’s the end of June – still a couple weeks from the All Star break, but just past the half way point. The Pirates face the difficulty of again being in the toughest division in the NL, and arguably all of MLB.

                  For all that activity, St. Louis is 6.5 behind Milwaukee and only 1.5 ahead of the Pirates.

                  Volquez has done reasonably well. Ishikawa is gone, but held the fort long enough to convince the Mets that they weren’t going to get Nick Kingham in return for Ike Davis, although first base is still a weak spot. Polanco is up and doing very well, making the decision to let Byrd leave look like a smart one.

                  The trouble was that the market wasn’t that strong. The Pirates could have taken a risk on aging vets who looked like they were past their prime and/or might have had PED issues, or take a shot at dumpster diving. They did the latter, and the results are still somewhat up in the air.

        • smurph

          Y2, good post. McGriff is a guy who probably should get in. Unless Beltran has 3 or 4 more outstanding seasons, he probably wouldn’t get in. Which is why I said BORDERLINE HOFer. So I’ll change my post. The Cardinals lost possibly their best hitter, whom other teams thought was worth between 45 and 48 million for 3 years. I stand by my post that the Cardinals DID NOT do more through trades and FAs to address their issues than the Pirates did. And you are wrong on one thing Y2. The Pirates DID need a backup catcher.

  • lonleylibertarian

    It might surprise some – but I do think the Bucs are well matched vs the Cards. PNC park – and LHP are pluses – will be interesting to see if the Pirates work Locke into the rotation against the Cards later in the year – for now Wandy and Frankie are pretty good at neutralizing the Cards bats.

    I know Tim likes the two defensive upgrades that the Cards made – but I am not sold on Bourjos being able to hit enough to make him more than a Barmes in CF for the Cards. If they are forced to play John Jay in CF they are vulnerable as they were last year – I can recall at least two Pirate wins that Jay misplays contributed to significantly

    I do think the Cards have a bit deeper starting five right now – but it is not a huge difference. The Pirates have a bullpen edge – though I think Rosenthal will be more reliable as a closer than Grilli – but again not by a lot.

    The next series in St Louis will be fun to watch – I hope ;-)

    • stickyweb

      Lonely, I knew if you kept posting, eventually we’d agree on something! The Bourjos trade was hailed as helping them at 2 positions, CF and 3B, but it also hurt them at 2B (using the unproven Wong). And it may not really help them in CF either, as Bourjos has never put a full offensive season together. Prior to the deal, somebody on here was saying the Bucs should trade for him. Ignoring the fact that it was a poor fit for the Pirates’ needs, I also didn’t like the idea because he’s not that good of a player. His defense is supposed to carry him, but he didn’t look great against the Bucs in the last series. And he had 2 good months with the bat last year, but can’t stay healthy either. I think Tavares is going to be up sooner than anyone thought, and it will be out of neccessity.
      I also agree the Cards probably have a better rotation, though if they keep running Lance Lynn out there, they’re going to prove me wrong. But if Wandy can stay healthy and Volquez can continue to pitch like I knew he could :-), it will be a great battle all season.

  • wkkortas

    I think the perception–and, to be frank, the reality to an extent–is the difference in terms of resources. The Cardinals have done an admirable job of building their farm system, including finding some quality MLB players in later rounds, plus they have the financial werewithal to make a Jhonny Peralta signing if they deem it necessary to do so. If the Pirates continue to draft-and-develop as well as they have during the Huntington era, then they can certainly go toe-to-toe with the Cards, but the Pirates have to do that, because they don’t have the Plan B options in free agency that the Cardinals do.

    • stickyweb

      Agree with the concept wk, but I’d use Beltran and Holliday as better examples than the Peralta signing. I’m not convinced that will work out very well for them. I think the best case is he meets the value of the contract, I don’t see him exceeding it at all, and the Bucs need to find value literally everywhere.

      • wkkortas

        That’s very true–I think the contract isn’t going to be something the Cards are happy about come the last year or two–but there’s still the difference between “Hey, we need to fix our hole at shortstop. Call Peralta’s agent.” and “Hey. we’ve got a hole at first base. Does anyone have Travis Ishikawa’s cell number?”

  • piraddict

    It is encouraging that the Pirates took the series 2-1 when our reigning MVP didn’t play particularly well.

  • Andrew

    I still think the gap is relatively large, Fangraphs projects a 3 win gap ROS and the team WAR gap is five, those are fairly big and if you buy
    the stuff PECOTA is modeling the gap in 8 wins.

    The Cardinals rotation is one of the better rotations in baseball, the Pirates rotation certainly has upside but let us not gloss over the fact that there are legitimate questions about every starter outside of Cole. In addition I think that the questions surrounding the Cardinals position players are less concerning. What will Peralta provide at the plate and can Bourjos hit at league average are better concerns to have than will Mercer hit enough to make up for his defense and what is going on at first.

    • stickyweb

      But if you phrase it as “Can Mercer play league average defense” it looks a lot like what your asking about Bourjos, except I think Mercer has a better chance to be avg at D than Bourjos does hitting.

      • Andrew

        Yes, but Bourjos is a plus defensive outfielder, if he hits at league average he is incredibly valuable. I think there are serious questions about Mercer’s defense in addition to questions about his ability to hit RHP.

        I like the Pirates’ position, I just think there is a fairly large gap between the Pirates and Cardinals, now could injuries happen could Ishikawa pull a Mike Carp/Casey Klotchman sure, but across projection systems there remains a gap between the Pirates and Cardinals expected performance.

  • piratemike

    I don’t expect the Pirates to EVER win another world series.
    With the way MLB

  • Jeff Rhodes

    I don’t disagree with your conclusions, Tim, and I think a strong case can be made that the Pirates are at least as strong as the Cardinals now, with the potential to pass them as our young talent arrives and their one legitimate superstar, Molina, ages.

    I’m not sure the column you linked makes the point you intended it to, though. The columnist himself is complimentary enough, but the quotes from the players and coaches seem to include a lot more Pirates genuflecting to the Cardinals than the other way around.

    • Lino Donoso

      There’s nothing wrong with a little humility. . .as long as you don’t let it go to your head.

  • stickyweb

    Matheny seems like a stand up guy. Can you imagine Dusty Baker syaing anything half as complimentary to the Bucs as Matheny does in the article? It’ll be nice to have a rivalry where baseball is the central focus, instead of beanballs.

  • michaelbro8

    The way I read this blog post : http://www.vivaelbirdos.com/2014/4/4/5575708/cardinals-at-pirates-series-preview-4-4-4-6
    Is that some think there’s still a big gap between the two teams. Kinda funny though, as the 3 players that were dissed the most (Volquez, Ishikawa, and G Sanchez) had some of the best play in the series.