The Houston Astros/Colt 45's have never played in a World Series, let alone won one. They've had their fair share of close calls. Obviously, they went to seven games with these Cardinals last year. They won 4 of 5 NL Central titles from 1997-2001 but won two games in four division series. In 1986 they lost in six games to the eventual champion Mets, falling in a well-remembered 16-inning Game 6 with their controversial ace Mike Scott set to go in Game 7. In the strike-shortened year of 1981, they made the first "Division Series" and lost in five to the Dodgers. In 1980 they made the more traditional playoffs and lost in five to the Phillies.
Besides the novelty, the best reasons to root for a Houston championship this year are Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. These two old-schoolers have each played their whole career for Houston, and if there's any justice in the world they'll be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a set. They both have some bad postseason history to shake off (.198/.267/.292 lifetime for Biggio, .232/.371/.337 for Bagwell). But these are great players. Bill James in the New Historical Baseball Abstract (2001) ranked Biggio the 35th greatest player of all time and Bagwell the 45th. James had Biggio 5th all-time among second basemen and Bagwell 4th among first basemen. I might have some trouble convincing most people they're that good, but I don't expect many would deny them Hall of Fame status. In any case, they're greats, and they deserve to win a World Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals have won nine world championships, the most recent in 1982. They've lost their last three, though, and in all three cases it had to come as a bit of a surprise. Last year the Cards went 105-57 and were swept by Boston (98-64). In 1987 St. Louis was 95-67 and lost in seven to Minnesota (85-77). And in '85 a 101-61 Cardinals team lost in seven to a 91-71 Royals squad. If St. Louis does make it the Fall Classic this year, they won't have to worry about meeting a team that won 10 games fewer than they did -- the White Sox won 1 less (99) and the Angels only 5 (95). Maybe Cardinals fans should be rooting for Chicago just in case.
Larry Walker might be retiring, and he's never won a World Series. His all-timer credentials pale in comparison to the Killer B's, though. Reggie Sanders is getting up there, and although no Hall of Famer he's one of baseball's good guys. He won in '01 with the Diamondbacks though. Jim Edmonds at 35 ought to have a few more good years yet. I won't be terribly disappointed if Mark Grudzielanek's career comes to an end without a ring -- but he's 35 too. The guy who most "deserves" a championship on the Cardinals to my mind is Tony LaRussa. It's true he has won one before (1989, with Oakland). But all of the four World Series LaRussa has managed in have been lacking in tension. In '88 his A's lost in five, in '89 they won in four, '90 they lost in four, and last year's Cards were swept as well. The leader in active managing wins deserves a nice six- or seven-game series to demonstrate his smarts.
I think the Astros will win in 6, but I have no idea why. That's just the gut speaking. I'm a lot more emotionally involved in the ALCS, but I think this could end up being the more entertaining of the two series. There are certainly plenty of candidates for amazing pitching performances, superstar hitting feats, and unlikely heroes. Fasten your seat belts.