Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
The Cardinals fought tooth and nail for their playoff berth, and they eventually won the NL Central with the best record in the National League. The difficult battles continued through the playoffs, when the Cardinals beat the Pirates in five games and the Dodgers in six to win the NL pennant. In the World Series, St Louis took a 2-1 series lead on the Red Sox before dropping three straight, finishing as the bridesmaids to the Red Sox once again.
Preseason Prediction: A major injury or two do pop up, but it’s Next Man Up and the team manages to keep their heads above water for much of the season. The inevitable late-season hot streak secures one of the two wildcard spots. All infield flies are called properly in the play-in game, but with such a deep pitching staff, they still have a good chance at moving on.
What Went Right: Winning the pennant is something that went right for the Cardinals, but it wasn't an easy road to October. Yadier Molina's stats fell off a bit from 2012, but he was still a top-flight NL MVP candidate. Second baseman Matt Carpenter came from out of nowhere to post a seven win season, leading the NL in hits. Matt Holliday had another typical Matt Holliday season: 20 homers, double digit walk rate, OPS approaching .900. Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran both had solid seasons offensively, but were worse than they were a year ago. Adam Wainwright had the best season of his career. Lance Lynn had another great year in the rotation. Rookies Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal contributed tremendous value to the club in the rotation and bullpen, respectively.
What Went Wrong: The team cycled through numerous closers before settling on Rosenthal after Jason Motte blew his elbow out, Mitchell Boggs stunk, was demoted, and later sold to the Rockies, and Edward Mujica became incredibly hittable in September. Chris Carpenter didn't throw a pitch in the majors. Jaime Garcia made just nine starts and had shoulder surgery. In 116 2/3 innings, Jake Westbrook walked more hitters than he struck out. The left side of the infield was a black hole of production with David Freese and Pete Kozma getting most of the playing time at third and short. Kozma was forced into action when Rafael Furcal had Tommy John surgery before the season started. Ty Wigginton did nothing to help shore up the bench, and was released in July.
Most Surprising Player: Carpenter wasn't just the most surprising player on the Cardinals, he was one of the biggest breakout stars in the entire league. The 27-year old was an unheralded prospect who looked like a solid utility guy last season. This year, Carpenter was one of the best players in the league and was the catalyst for the Cardinals lineup at the top of their order. A second baseman who plays average defense, gets on base at a near-.400 clip, and hits 55 doubles is an extremely valuable commodity, and the Cardinals once again found another diamond in the rough.
Most Disappointing Player: What the hell happened with David Freese? The 2011 Postseason hero saw his homers drop from 20 in 2012 to nine in 2013, his batting average and OBP drop by 30 points, and his defense fall off a cliff. Freese will turn 31 in April, and is actually a non-tender candidate for the Cardinals this winter. Imagine going from a Postseason icon to unemployed in the span of two seasons. It could very well happen here.
The Future: It's remarkable how on-point Jaymes' prediction from March was. Injuries smashed the rotation, and guys like Miller, Lynn, and Joe Kelly all stepped into starting roles and shined. St Louis' major free agent is Beltran, who the team will likely bid farewell to in favor of top prospect Oscar Tavares. Aside from that, the team should look to upgrade at shortstop and perhaps at third base and center field, but the majority of the names you saw this October will be starring for the Cardinals next year too.