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Neil Walker: Pirates need veteran leadership

Neil Walker says that veteran leadership is crucial.

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

This interview with Neil Walker made me chuckle a bit:

However, Walker pointed out the rest of the Cardinals’ roster — including Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse — is neither green nor cheap.

"I think experience is probably the biggest thing," Walker said. "When you’ve got an organization that’s as successful as the Cardinals and you have guys like Wainwright, Carpenter and Beltran ... when you get into these (playoff) situations, the younger guys are looking at the older guys and seeing how they react to things. It’s a testament to the veteran leadership more than the performance of the younger guys."

Two thoughts on this:

1) If a veteran core of the likes of Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse is the sort of thing needed to succeed in the playoffs, then the Bucs truly are screwed, because they're never going to have a core like that. Or, to be more specific, they're not going to be able to get guys like Holliday and Beltran. There is much for the Pirates to learn, however, about getting guys like Carpenter and Lohse on the cheap and turning them into good players. And as someone here observed a few months ago (it might have been JRoth), the Cardinals have gotten huge contributions this year from complementary players like David Freese, Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia who seem to be maxing out their talents. None of these guys were really regarded as top prospects, but whatever the Cardinals are doing to prepare guys like this for the majors, it's working. I don't think the veteran core of the team has a whole lot to do with it -- it's probably just good development and good major-league coaching. I think Kyle Stark is pretty far down the Pirates' list of problems, but so far, the Pirates don't have much of a record of churning out helpful complementary players like this.

2) Man, do players start to sound like wimps whenever the concept of veteran leadership comes up. The game is played the same way whether you're in the playoffs or you're not, so it certainly is curious that young players suddenly need older ones to tell them what to do once they make it to the playoffs. One would think that players who have made the long trek through the minors and have made the necessary adjustments would have no trouble adjusting to playoff baseball.

Of course, there's no way of disprove that veteran leadership is important during playoff situations, since every team contains veterans. But the payroll that allows the Cardinals to buy good veterans while keeping the Pirates out in the cold is a big problem. All four teams in the two league championship series were in the top 10 in payroll.

I was going to say that one difference between playoff teams and non-playoff teams is that the playoff teams tend to have better stuff -- I feel like it's not uncommon to watch a playoff game and every pitcher out of the bullpen is throwing 95 or higher. But that's probably not actually true. The Nationals were the hardest-throwing team in baseball this year, followed by the Tigers at No. 3 and the Rangers at No. 5, but the Giants were dead last (thanks in part to Barry Zito and his 84-MPH fastballs), and the Braves were No. 28.

In any case, the Pirates will have to find a way to skin this cat without the benefit of hundred-million-dollar payrolls.