Keeping competition healthy is a key for the Cardinals

By Corey Noles of the Daily Statesman

Even outside of the standard nine innings of play, baseball is a game of competitions. Not just for wins and trophies, it's a game of competitions within.

The St. Louis Cardinals know that as well as any team.

Those inner competitions can range from trying to find the fifth starting pitcher to naming your second baseman or long-relief guy.

While competition is a good thing in baseball, how do you guarantee that competition remains healthy?

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A divided clubhouse with a rift over who got a job could create serious tension—but the Cardinals never seem to have a problem with that.

Their clubhouse almost always has a good atmosphere among the guys. Whether it's Joe Kelly, Jr. up to his usual antics or a fun poker game during a rainout, the team meshes well together despite the inner competitions among them—some of which could mean a guy's job.

"It all starts with how you balance your core players and what's expected of them," said general manager John Mozeliak before Friday night's rainout in Memphis. "Having competition helps eliminate anybody getting too comfortable or complacent."

That's a lesson most Cardinals understand very well.

The Cardinals' decision to let players like Carlos Beltran and Albert Pujols walk, even though they still contributed, only serve as a reminder that it's important to always leave everything on the field.

While both of those guys did that, when the time came that their services were no longer needed or the dollar value exceeded the field value, Mozeliak made the hard choice. He let them go.

Overall, the Pujols move has proven to be a good decision. Mozeliak believes the players on this team understand what's at stake for them and keep pushing forward.

"This is a competitive business," Mozeliak said. "When you get to this level, they know it. They don't expect anything handed to them—they know they have to work for it."

As he said, it's a game of expectations. Meet those expectations and the possibilities are limitless. Fail to meet them? Well…

"This business is about production," he said. "When you combine that with expectations, they are high. I think our players understand that no one is going to hand anything to you, but the rewards are great."

He's right. The rewards are great.

Less than two years ago Matt Carpenter was nearing the end of his window to make the major league squad. Today he has a six-year, $52 million major league deal.

He has that deal because he knows what it takes to succeed. No one gave him that deal. Matt Carpenter earned it—and no one would argue any differently.

Manager Mike Matheny believes the formula for that type of player is simple.

"It's about having the right kind of people," Matheny said. "We have the right kind of people."

Part of that formula is just ingrained in the players themselves—knowing that their success is in their hands.

Matheny thinks that a competition for, for example the fifth starter job, is just part of any other day for his players.

"These guys are going to compete whether we ask them to or not—it's just what they do," he said. "They wake up every day and they compete. They know there is a bigger picture and that picture is us winning and trying to win a championship."

This team has the right mentality—and the talent to back it up.

Corey Noles is a Cardinals Writer and Columnist for The Daily Statesman. He is also a regular contributor to and Bleacher Report. Contact him at or on Twitter @coreynoles.


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