Cardinals, Pirates both have youth on their side in renewed rivalry
A day before Game 5 of the NLDS last October, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak met with a reporter in the quiet and vacant managerial office at Busch Stadium.
The architect of one of the game's model franchises — a Cardinals club fresh off its sixth consecutive winning season — was asked about the upstart Pirates. Could they join the Cardinals as a perennial contender through the decade? Was this the start of a more meaningful rivalry? Was this the beginning of a more competitive division?
Mozeliak was hesitant to predict the future landscape of the NL Central. But after the surprising Pirates had pushed his club to the brink of elimination, after the Pirates had won the regular season series, there was no doubting this was a different Pirates team. And with the Pirates and Cardinals both loaded with young talent throughout their organizations, perhaps 2013 was the beginning of meaningful rivalry which will renew at 7:05 p.m. Friday at PNC Park.
“You can see where (the Pirates) are going to have core players to build around,” Mozeliak said. “They probably have the most athletic outfield in the game … It's a good base to start from.”
While the Cardinals and Pirates have much different recent histories, and St. Louis did more to strengthen its roster this offseason in signing shortstop Jhonny Peralta and trading for outfielder Peter Bourjos, both clubs share common traits. For starters, both clubs are among the youngest in baseball.
The Cardinals entered the season with the fourth-youngest Opening Day age in baseball (27.4 years), the Pirates rank 11th (28.3). And the Pirates will soon become younger as they rank first in Baseball America's updated farm rankings released Wednesday. The Cardinals rank seventh. The Cubs rank fourth.
Perhaps most important is both clubs have a number of promising young arms in the system.
One of the Cardinals' prized young arms, Shelby Miller, will match up against the Pirates' burgeoning ace, Gerrit Cole, in the series opener.
While a number of young arms already have arrived onto the Cardinals' 25-man roster — power arms like Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal — the Pirates have an impressive collection of power arms on the horizon in Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Tyler Glasnow.
The NL Central became one of the most competitive divisions last year, becoming the first division to send three teams to the postseason. And perhaps it will remain that way for the foreseeable future. The division is the youngest in baseball with all five teams' Opening Day rosters among the 12 youngest in the game.
“Time will tell,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Everybody plans on being (competitive). Everyone is building towards it. That's the way we feel. The Cardinals have proven it for double-digit years. The Reds have proven it for the last handful. The Brewers are just a few years removed from a playoff opportunity. The Cubs are mindful of what they need to do and how to get to a more competitive place.”
If the NL Central is to remain a competitive neighborhood in 2014, that will present the Pirates with challenges in April; the club does not play a nondivision opponent until traveling to Baltimore on April 29.
“It's the schedule,” Hurdle said. “It's always important to play well in the division. ... I do believe the division will continue to be challenging. It will be strong. How strong? Time will tell.”
Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.
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