What a difference a year makes: Cards’ rookies get set for postseason run

ST. LOUIS — On the day of the NL Wild Card game last year, Seth Maness was traveling from his North Carolina home to California.

He says he boarded his flight right around the time the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons hit that lazy infield fly that led to all sorts of controversy in the Cardinals’ 6-3 victory.

“I didn’t hear what happened until I landed,” Maness said Tuesday.

Maness was on the way to the West Coast to visit a buddy. He said he followed the Cardinals’ playoff run but there was hunting to be done. Besides, Maness already had won his championship with Class AA Springfield.

A couple of his Springfield teammates, Kevin Siegrist and Kolten Wong, spent their October at the Arizona Fall League. Matt Adams was at home in Pennsylvania rehabbing after right elbow surgery. Michael Wacha says he was back in Texas, recovering from his first pro season. Most said they watched some of the Cardinals’ playoff games, though they weren’t planning their days around them.

A year later, they certainly are.

All, in fact, spent Tuesday afternoon at Busch Stadium preparing for the NL Division Series that begins Thursday. In this year of the rookie in St. Louis, as many as 11 — no fewer than nine — could find their names on the post-season roster when it is turned in Thursday morning.

While this will be the second round of October baseball for Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller, they enter the postseason with far more important roles this time. Besides Pete Kozma and Adron Chambers, the other rookies will be making their postseason debuts. They won’t be along just for the ride, either. In all, as many as eight of the rooks will be manning important roles during the Cardinals’ second season.   

Rosenthal has moved into the closer’s role and Miller figures to get the start in Game 3 or 4. If Kozma doesn’t start at shortstop, he likely will be a late-inning defensive replacement.

Adams has taken over the cleanup spot in the batting order and first base for injured Allen Craig (who was walking around the clubhouse Tuesday sans boot and hardly a hobble).

Maness and Siegrist have become high-leverage, late-inning relievers. Carlos Martinez might be joining them, considering how he has been used lately. Wacha could end up in the bullpen, too, unless he gets the nod to start Game 3 or 4 ahead of Miller or Joe Kelly.

That’s a lot of inexperience for any team, much less one with the World Series in its sights. But if you have been following this team since the rookies started arriving — and delivering — you know what they’ve been hearing from their playoff-seasoned teammates.

“Stick with the plan,” Maness said. “Don’t try to make it more than it is. Stay the course.”

Manager Mike Matheny said he plans to bring the club together before Wednesday’s workout to give the veterans a chance to further share their wisdom (and, according to a message board in the clubhouse, to vote on playoff shares). Matheny also will address the club, though he won’t be saying anything his players young or old haven’t already heard.

“Part of that message is what I expect of them is what I’ve seen from them all season,” he said. “I need them to believe what they have done so far this year is exactly what they need to continue to do. Regardless of how many questions they get, regardless of how many people are trying to tell them this is different, it’s not. It’s the same game. They need to trust that and realize the expectation level isn’t anything different from me or our coaching staff.”

Perhaps not, but most of his rookies are in a very different place than they were this time last year.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.