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Why the 2011 Cardinals offer hope to the Red Sox

03.08.12 at 11:51 am ET
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JUPITER, Fla. — The 2011 Cardinals represented one of the more improbable champions in World Series history. The team went through a staggering degree of change en route to a title.

There was turnover at the shortstop position from Ryan Theriot to the trade deadline acquisition of Rafael Furcal, something that manager Bobby Valentine has referenced in discussing the Sox’ willingness to trade Marco Scutaro and commit to Mike Aviles and Nick Punto. There was the rotation, which lost co-ace Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery last spring but managed to fill in, in part, with a trade deadline acquisition of Edwin Jackson. There was the bullpen, in which Ryan Franklin opened the year as the closer only to lose his job in the early days of the season, with Jason Motte emerging as the closer in October.

For a Red Sox team that does have some questions as it faces a period of uncertainty and/or transition in its rotation, bullpen and shortstop situation, there is some reassurance to be drawn from last year’s Cardinals, even if the model of massive in-season changes isn’t exactly a blueprint that a team tries to follow.

“[The 2011 Cardinals are] a little bit of an outlier,” Valentine said on Thursday morning from Roger Dean Stadium, where his team is getting ready to play an exhibition game against the Cardinals. “I don’€™t think that formula can repeat itself continuously, but it’€™s out there that it can be replicated every once in a while.”

And so, Valentine and Red Sox GM Ben Cherington have both studied that model and referenced several aspects of last year’s Cardinals team in discussing their own organization this year. That St. Louis team benefited immensely from the fact that it did not fire all of its bullets in the offseason, and instead that it had both the internal depth and the flexibility (in terms of tradeable players and money) to make in-season changes.

“What they broke spring training, that team wasn’€™t the team that raised the trophy at the end of the season. That plan evolved all year long, from Franklin being the drop-dead closer to Nicky Punto, filling in for a Wainwright, who was irreplaceable. At the time, it was, ‘€˜How can you replace one of the best pitchers in baseball?’€™” said Valentine. “I think it gives credence to flexibility and I think it’€™s a lot of credit to the coaching staff and Tony LaRussa, continuing to change and continuing to keep the spirits up, especially when they were 10½ [games] out, because that’€™s what a lot of people thought they should be.”

Of course, the Cardinals’ improbable run can only offer so much reassurance to any other team. After spending half a year with virtually everything breaking in the wrong direction, the team needed nearly everything conspire perfectly for them to go on their historic run through September and through the postseason.

And so, as much as it gives the Sox hope that they need not have definitive answers to all of their questions coming out of spring training, they would just assume resolve most of their areas of uncertainty rather than hoping that lightning can strike twice with the formula employed by last year’s Cardinals.

“I hope,” chuckled Valentine, “we don’€™t have to do that.”

Read More: 2011 cardinals, marco scutaro, mike aviles, Nick Punto
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