I don't have to tell you the 2000's have been a good time to be a Cardinals fan. The team has seen 12 playoff appearances in 16 years, second only to the Yankees, with 13. The last five years have been particularly nice for Cardinals fans, as the team has seen the postseason each of those five. Those five years represent a strong run in the Wild Card Era, which began in 1994. '94 was a strike year though, and no one made the play-offs that year. Since 1995, here are the longest play-off streaks in baseball:
The Yankees had nine years of consecutive division titles (and ten total) and four World Series championships in their run, certainly earning that "evil empire" moniker. Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera and the financial muscle to bring in any star they pleased made the Yankees synonymous with postseason baseball during my adolescence. Then they took the year off in 2008 before returning to the postseason in 2009 to another World Series, and followed it up with three more before missing the play-offs again in 2013 and 2014.
The Braves run of 11 consecutive division titles is the longest in terms of winning the division, which is made all the more amazing by the fact that they had won the NL West the last three years before expanding the divisions, so if you don't count '94 when there was no play-offs, they really won 14 division titles in a row. The Braves came away with just one World Series title, in 1995. The historic trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz threw over 5,400 innings during that stretch, accumulating over 130 fWAR in the process. Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones combined for over 100 WAR.
That's it. Those are the only two streaks longer than the Cardinals' current playoff streak. After finishing off their three-peat as division championships last year, the Cardinals joined two teams who five-peated their division, the Indians from '95-'99 and the Phillies from 2007-2011, who the Cardinals upset en route to the team's eleventh World Series championship. They passed the '00-'03 A's "Moneyball" teams, headed by Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Jason Giambi, Eric Chavez,and Miguel Tejada. The Detroit Tigers, who matched the Cardinals' postseason streak the first four years, missed the boat in 2015.
The Cardinals' GM over the those five years has of course been John Mozeliak. Part of Mo's ability to build a quality roster year-in and year-out undoubtedly has to do with him not becoming over-reliant on players on previous play-off rosters: The 2011-2015 Cardinals have survived the departure of Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter, and Tony La Russa. Mo acted quick to trade World Series heroes David Freese and Allen Craig. The Freese trade brought in Randal Grichuk who was a big part of the Cardinals' postseason run last year and will have four more years of control following this one, whereas Craig brought in one and a half years of John Lackey, who out-pitched expectations and then promptly turned into the 34th pick of the draft, which will turn into a new Cardinals prospect in just a few more weeks from now.
There are technically seven players who were with the Cardinals at the major league level in any capacity for all five years. One of them, Wainwright, didn't pitch at all in 2011 and only threw 28 innings in 2015, so he hasn't exactly been a constant presence. Nevertheless, he leads all Cardinals pitchers in fWAR from 2011 to 2015. Second in fWAR among Cardinals pitchers in that time frame is Lance Lynn, who was called up in 2011 just in time to miss the Super 2 Deadline in June. He made just two starts and 16 relief appearances in 2011, before entering the rotation in 2012. Matt Carpenter played in all five years, but had just 19 PA in 2011, and did not make the World Series roster. Jaime Garcia has been with the team all five years, but has also been on the DL about as often as he's been in the rotation, making just 88 starts over that time frame.
Jon Jay, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina have had the most constant presence on the Cardinals over those five years, and of course if the Cardinals make it to six, it will be without Jay. Holliday has been with the team for seven Octobers, and the Cardinals have seen postseason play in six of them. Yadi of course is the National League's longest tenured player, and the face of the Cardinals if there is one since Pujols left. He also leads the team in fWAR over those five years, with exactly 20. Even Yadi and Holliday have had seasons where they weren't contributing though, as Molina failed to reach a qualified amount of PA in 2014 and Holliday missed large chunks of 2015.
Whereas most the teams I named off above can be defined by several players coming up at once, the Cardinals have constantly churned out new talent during their run. Carpenter and Lynn debuted in 2011, followed by Matt Adams, Shelby Miller, and Trevor Rosenthal debuting in 2012. 2013 brought us Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness, and Kolten Wong. 2014 introduced us to Randal Grichuk and (sigh) Oscar Taveras. With 2015 came the debuts of Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham. So far in 2016 Aledmys Diaz may be the only new talent introduced this year, though Jeremy Hazelbaker may disagree with that sentiment. Diaz could be joined by Alex Reyes later in the year. Harrison Bader fronts the 2017 list of possible new contributors.
The Cardinals certainly have a legitimate shot at a play-off appearance this year, but it's less of a sure thing then it's been the last few years. The team is essentially one of six teams fighting for four spots: The Nationals and The Mets are both fighting hard for the NL East, with the Dodgers and the Giants fighting for the NL West, with the losers of those battles taking on the Cardinals, Pirates, and Marlins for the two wild card spots. The Cardinals are currently only ahead of the Dodgers and behind the other five teams, but with everyone bunched up close to each other and 120+ games left, history has yet to be written for the 2016 season.
Clinching one more postseason would be the icing on the cake for the Cardinals. Extending the streak passed the '95-'99 Indians and '07-'11 Phillies would cement this run as one of the best of the Wild Card Era. Sure, they would still have nothing on the '95-'07 Yankees and '95-'05 Braves, but they will have achieved something that no other team other than those two behemoths had achieved: six consecutive postseason appearances. That would make a great addition to a club already rich in winning history.