AL East

2004 vs. 2011: Which Cardinals Team Would Win?

David Freese is greeted at home plate after his walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
AP Photo/Eric Gay

Welcome to our 2004 vs. 2011 Cardinals comparison. It’s no secret that that St. Louis Cardinals have a rich history that spans over a full century. Each generation has seen more than their fair share of quality teams. Two such teams that stand out are the 2004 squad and the 2011 squad. In today’s story, we will size up each team on paper, break them down position by position, and determine who we think would win if the two teams matched up in a seven-game series.

Catcher

Each squad featured two of the best catchers in team history, Mike Matheny and Yadier Molina. While Molina was a part of both teams, Matheny was the starting catcher on the ’04 squad. Both players were hard-nosed and rugged.

2004 was Matheny’s final year in a Cards’ uniform before he would take over as the team’s manager in 2012. He was a four-time Gold-Glove Award winner in his career, one of which was won in ’04. At the plate, Matheny wasn’t a major threat, but did drive in 50 runs while popping five homers and hitting .247.

Molina had a career year in 2011, hitting for a team-high .305 average while blasting a career-best 14 homers and driving in 65 runs. Even in the latter stages of his career, Molina still continues to produce and retains his uncanny ability to throw out base-stealers. 2011 was no different. Molina was the best catcher in all of baseball at the time and was already on his way to becoming a Hall-of-Famer.

EDGE: 2011 Cardinals

First Base

Both clubs featured the same first baseman, that being Albert Pujols, who was in the prime of his career in both seasons. However, he was better in ’04. While his ’11 numbers were solid, he belted 46 home runs in ’04 and hit for a .331 average. 2011 was the first time he hit below .300 and drove in fewer than 100 runs.

EDGE: 2004 Cardinals

Second Base

The ’04 squad featured a second baseman that had already won a title in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite his age and injury struggles late in the season, Womack was the table setter for St. Louis, hitting .307 from the leadoff spot.

Ryan Theriot is best known for his days with the Cubs, but it was the Cardinals who got him his first ring. He was the leadoff man for most of the year, that is until Rafael Furcal arrived in a trade with the Dodgers. Theriot hit .271 in ’11 and provided the Cards with a much-needed spark. He also brought great energy to the clubhouse and was one of the veteran leaders on that team.

EDGE: 2004 Cardinals

Third Base

Neither third baseman here needs an introduction. Scott Rolen was a key factor in not only the Cards run to the World Series in ’04, but also the 2006 championship team. Rolen hit 34 homers in 2004 and batted .314 with 124 RBI’s, which is one ahead of Pujols. He also had a knack for great defensive plays.

David Freese, the hometown kid, was the Cardinals bread and butter in the 2011 postseason, hitting .397 with five homers and 21 RBI’s, including his game-tying triple and walk-off home run in Game 6. He was the NLCS and World Series MVP and forever etched his name in Cardinals’ history as a hometown hero.

However, only one can emerge victorious in our 2004 vs. 2011 Cardinals comparison, and while Freese’s postseason stats were extraordinary, Rolen had a better career overall.

EDGE: 2004 Cardinals

Shortstop

Edgar Renteria was no stranger to postseason heroics, having been the one to drive in the title clinching run in the 1997 World Series as a member of the Marlins. He had a solid year in 2004 as well, hitting .287 with 10 homers and 72 RBI’s. He even had himself a little song whenever he came to bat. “REN-TER-IA REN-TER-IA GET A HIT FOR MAMA MIA!”

Rafael Furcal was a popular member of the 2011 squad. He was the one that coined the term “Happy Flight”, which came into play when the Cards won their most recent game before taking a flight to another city. It was also a streak that stretched from early August up until their loss at home in Game 2 of the World Series against the Rangers.

Furcal was a solid table setter and defender, and he provided the club with some levity with his sense of humor and boisterous personality.

EDGE: 2004 Cardinals

Left Field

Each squad had solid left fielders as well, each with some prior World Series experience. Reggie Sanders had been a teammate of Tony Womack on the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks squad that beat the Yankees. He also was part of the Giants during their run to the fall classic in 2002.

Matt Holliday needs no introduction. His stats speak for themselves. He was a perennial MVP candidate during his years with the Rockies and was part of their 2007 World Series team that lost to the Red Sox. He immediately endeared himself to Cardinals fans upon being acquired in 2009.

Holliday dealt with minor injuries throughout the 2011 season, he still managed to hit .296 with 22 homers and 75 RBI’s. For years, he was a cornerstone in the Cards’ lineup and was as consistent as they came. And he left St. Louis in style too, hitting a home run and driving in the go-ahead run in his final two at-bats as a Cardinal, respectively.

EDGE: 2011 Cardinals

Center Field

This one is really no contest. Jim Edmonds was one of the greatest players to ever wear the Birds on the Bat. He hit 42 homers and drove in 111 runs while hitting .301 in ’04. Two of his biggest moments came in the NLCS against the Astros. He had a walk-off home run in Game 6 to help the Cards stave off elimination, just as David Freese would years later, and his stellar diving catch in Game 7 to rob Brad Ausmus of an extra-base hit helped keep the Cardinals within striking distance before they came back to win and clinch the pennant.

However, Jon Jay was no slouch. He provided the 2011 Cardinals with some stellar defense of his own. He also was a solid contact hitter and had a key hit in Game 6 of the World Series to set up the tying run in the bottom of the tenth.

EDGE: 2004 Cardinals

Right Field

The ’04 Cards had a future Hall-of-Famer manning right field. Larry Walker was acquired at the trade deadline and helped give St. Louis that extra push to run away with the NL Central. Walker unfortunately was struggling to stay healthy at that point in his career. While he still put up respectable numbers in ’04, he was limited to just 82 games.

Lance Berkman hadn’t played full-time in the outfield in years, but he put up monster numbers in 2011 on his way to winning NL Comeback Player of the Year. His Game 6 performance in the World Series gets lost among David Freese’s heroics, but he recorded three hits, homering in the first inning and tying the game in the bottom of the tenth when the Cards were down to their last strike for a second time.

EDGE: 2011 Cardinals

Starting Pitching

The ’04 Cardinals’ rotation consisted of a young Chris Carpenter, Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis, Matt Morris, and Woody Williams. Carpenter missed the postseason that year due to an arm injury, but Morris, Suppan, and Williams carried the Cards all the way through the NLCS, and Marquis was the only starter to have a quality start in the World Series.

In 2011, it was Adam Wainwright that was missing due to Tommy-John surgery. Carpenter re-established himself as the club’s ace in Wainwright’s absence, going 11-9 with a 3.45 ERA while leading the National League in innings pitched. The remaining members of that rotation were solid too. Kyle Lohse led the team in wins, and Jaime Garcia gave them a young lefty to balance out the rotation. Garcia also became the first Mexican-born pitcher to start a World Series game since Fernando Valenzuela in 1988. Edwin Jackson, who was acquired mid-season, gave St. Louis a little extra depth and allowed them to shift Kyle McClellan back to the bullpen. Jake Westbrook was moved to the bullpen for the postseason but was the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the World Series, and also had a grand slam in late August against the Brewers.

EDGE: 2011 Cardinals

Bullpen

Both bullpens were stacked. The ’04 Cards pen was led by the franchise’s all-time saves leader, Jason Insringhausen. Izzy saved 47 games in 2004 and posted a 2.87 ERA. The Cards also had Ray King, Steve Kline, Julian Tavarez, Dan Haren, Cal Eldred, and Kiko Calero.

While the ’04 squad certainly had the better closer, Jason Motte was a solid closer in his own right. Though he wasn’t named the closer until late in the season, Motte closed out the NLCS and World Series. The Cardinals also had a strong supporting cast of bullpen arms that included two solid lefty specialists in Arthur Rhodes and Marc Rzepczynski. Octavio Dotel, Lance Lynn, Mitchell Boggs, Kyle McClellan, and Fernando Salas helped round out the pen, it was actually Salas that led the team in saves that year.

EDGE: 2004 Cardinals

Bench

The 2011 Cardinals had some solid bats on the bench. Skip Schumaker, a fan-favorite, was one of the many utility men on the team. There was also the shredder, Nick Punto, who tore apart David Freese’s jersey upon his arrival at home plate after his walk-off homer in Game 6. Daniel Descalso also played a key role, mainly coming in as a defensive replacement but also picking up one of two key hits in the tenth inning of Game 6 that helped the Cards mount a rally. Then there was Allen Craig, who saw more playing time in American League parks but was the first player since 1956 to record back-to-back go-ahead pinch hits in the World Series. He also hit a home run in Game 7 that proved to be the difference and robbed Nelson Cruz of breaking the all-time postseason home run record.

The ’04 squad had some solid bats as well. There was Cardinals Hall-of-Famer Ray Lankford, and fan-favorites John Mabry and So Taguchi. They had two solid utility infielders in Marlon Anderson and Hector Luna. There was also a certain backup catcher on that team who would go on to become one of the best catchers the game has ever seen, that being Yadier Molina.

EDGE: 2011 Cardinals

Who would win?

These two teams are pretty even and well stocked, but only one can come out on top. Each team was strong in every area and put together memorable seasons that their fans will remember for a long time. That’s what makes this 2004 vs. 2011 Cardinals comparison so difficult.

Verdict: 2004 Cardinals in 7

Conclusion

That was our 2004 vs. 2011 Cardinals comparison. It’s always interesting to size up two teams and predict who would win. Of course, each team serves its purpose in Cardinals’ history, and both will go down as two of the greatest teams the franchise has ever put together.

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