The 2012 season for the St. Louis Cardinals came to a rather abrupt, sobering halt tonight. Taking time to reflect and collect one’s thoughts before writing a post-mortem might be a savvy move. I am not that man. So, please go elsewhere for brevity, hat tipping, and the usual exchange of pleasantries that often follows a loss. No team that disrespects the game as much as the San Francisco Giants do will ever receive positive thoughts and good karma from me.
Success is not the absence of failure. Success often comes from failure and in spite of it. It would not be too generous to call this season a success for the Cardinals, but the failures along the way deserve attention as well. Sure, a team that moves on without a likely HoF manager in Tony La Russa, perhaps the best pitching coach in the game in Dave Duncan, and the best player of his generation in Albert Pujols would not be expected to set its sights on the World Series. That’s just how St. Louis works, though. The organization excels at excelling when doubt clouds the average person’s view. This year just seemed to include more obstacles than most.
- Way back in spring training, the starting rotation looked like Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, and Kyle Lohse. Carp went down early, and pretty much everybody not named Chris Carpenter thought it was a season ending injury. Injuries – 1, Cardinals – 0.
- Lance Lynn was asked to step in and give the team 29 starts. Quite a lot for a guy who had been one of the team’s best relievers the previous year. Lynn ONLY went about winning 18 games and posting a 3.78 ERA. Pretty great stuff for a fill-in for a former Cy Young Award winner.
- Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia battled injuries and combined for a whopping 2 innings of postseason work thanks to Jaime. That’s 48 combined starts this season and $11.75M in payroll (roughly 10%) unavailable.
- After being a unbelievably reliable source of production in 2011, Lance Berkman finished 2012 with just 97 plate appearances. That’s 360 career home runs from a switch hitter with a career .953 OPS missing from the lineup. For the bean counters, that’s another $12M in product that spent little time on the field.
- Rafael Furcal went from being an All-Star shortstop to an onlooker/spectator/cheerleader after blowing out a good portion of his throwing arm. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s another $6M for a switch-hitting shortstop with a cannon for an arm. Those aren’t exactly floating around on Ebay.
- Allen Craig actually played even fewer regular season games than Furcal did, and he was one of the bigger contributors this season. He may be somewhat injury-prone, but that .876 OPS with 22 HR and 92 RBI in 119 games will play. Oh yes, that will do nicely.
- Erik Komatsu didn’t pan out. Tyler Greene was…..well, Tyler Greene and was shipped off to Houston. Scott Linebrink never made it out of the chute. J.C. Romero made it 0ut long enough to get smacked around like a wiffle ball.
- Kyle McClellan went from solid bullpen guy to injured to out for the season in what seemed like a matter of minutes.
- The Brian Fuentes experiment didn’t work out, and it more than anything tipped everyone off to the sense of desperation brought on by the perceived lack of organizational depth.
- Even the Scrapperdoodle himself, Skip Schumaker, wasn’t able to play a full season.
If you look at all that didn’t work out for the Cardinals, you might think they finished dead last…..even behind the Astros. If similar things happened to most of the other teams in baseball, this post-mortem would have been written months ago. That’s just not the Cardinal way. The team reached down to both AA and AAA and found more than a few surprises.
- Trevor Rosenthal has a promising future as a starting pitcher, but he also has a spot in the bullpen with his name on it. Players simply do not jump from Double-A ball to the big leagues and put up a 2.78 ERA, 0.926 WHIP, and 9.9 SO/9. Rosenthal simply cannot be just a “player”. He’s mythical beast from Norse legend with a rocket arm and great command. Hitting 100+ on the gun makes people take notice. Hitting 100+ while locating your fastball keeps their attention. Throwing a breaking fall off of that incredible 4-seamer gets them talking about you. Rosenthal has people talking.
- Joe Kelly – He only showed up in time to start 16 desperately needed games, and he acquitted himself quite nicely in keeping the Cardinals in the bulk of those games. His 5-7 record belies a fraction of his actual accomplishments, and his 3.53 ERA has the rumor mill buzzing about his potential as a starter. Like Rosenthal, he was not even projected to pitch in St. Louis this season. Wonders truly never cease.
- Sam Freeman, Barret Browning, Brandon Dickson, Chuckie Fick were all given opportunities to shine. While some certainly performed better than others, it’s worth noting that all were meted out in small doses.
- Pete Kozma came up and played well above Pete Kozma level for long enough to help propel the Cardinals into the NLCS. Maybe his defensive deficiencies were exposed at shortstop, but give Kozma credit for being a gamer.
- Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers showed once again why they can be impact players without doing a lot of damage at the plate. They filled in with just enough to smooth out some of the holes and gaps during the season.
- Matt Adams showed some potential, and his 13 RBI in 27 games gives prospect fans something to hyperventilate about during the offseason.
- Matt Carpenter turned into a super-sub – .294/.365/.463/.828 before upping the ante to .333/.500/.778/1.278 in the NLCS. Go ahead and scream “small sample size” all you like, but he maintained a .983 OPS throughout the playoffs. Unless I’m mistaken, he appears to be an excellent fit at 2B for next year.
Given all that you know now about the injuries and the way the team dipped into the minor league talent pool, aren’t you at least a bit surprised the Cardinals even made the postseason?
I am, or at least I was. Then they pulled off that stunning comeback in Washington to put down the team with the best record in the NL. That was AFTER they went to Atlanta and burned the city worse than Sherman ever did. Then suddenly they were up 3-1 in the NLCS with game 5 at home, and all seemed to be aligned for a 2006 World Series rematch.
They scored 19 runs in 7 games. Heck, they probably gave away 9 runs on defense alone. They finally reached the point where they were exposed as having a short bench with no right-handed power. The curtain was pulled away to reveal a team with a bare minimum of speed in the outfield and a CF with a below average throwing arm. That’s not meant to be harsh criticism of Jon Jay, either. However, you could see that every team the Cardinals played were willing to take an extra base against Jay. Most games started with Tony Cruz and Shane Robinson as the 2 available RHH on the bench. Both performed admirably this season, but neither will cause an opposing manager to reach for the bullpen phone too quickly.
Maybe that should be the big moment of solace for Cardinal fans who lived and breathed every inning. As good as this team is/was. As close as it came to the World Series, it has the potential to do still greater things. The team can move on into 2013 with very few calls to make on potential free agents. Kyle Lohse can go away to greener, deeper pockets, and the Cardinals can replace him. Many are the reasons for Cardinal Nation to look ahead, and they shall be numbered.
- Adam Wainwright should simply not have been as good as he was this season. If you were being realistic, the Waino that we all are accustomed to watching wasn’t expected to show up until 2013. Much of what he gave the Cardinals this year was based on desire to help his team.
- Chris Carpenter came back after having a rib removed. He only made 3 regular season starts, and it showed. Give him a full spring training while looking ahead to what could be his last hurrah, and you can bet the house he’ll give it a run.
- Jake Westbrook will keep giving the team innings.
- Even if Jaime Garcia does not have it all together by spring, you can bet that Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, or someone else will find a way to hold down his spot for a while. Like Chevy, the pitching staff runs deep.
- Jason Motte did exactly what Jason Motte was expected to do. He went out and tied for the NL lead in saves (42), and he did so with 1 1/2 pitches. If he masters that cutter, he could hold down the closer job for a while.
- Edward Mujica was obtained from Zach Cox, and was lights out. His 1.03 ERA and 0.873 WHIP were way better than advertised.
- The hitters collectively accumulated 27.7 WAR for the regular season. For comparison, the 2011 WS Champs only compiled a collective 24.4 WAR during the regular season. The staff ERA dropped from 3.74 in 2011 to 3.71 in 2012. For a team with almost no Carp, Waino around 85%, and the rest held together by duct tape, that’s pretty good. Actually, it’s incredible.
Is any of this enough to soften the blow of watching the Cardinals get beaten in the city of singers who can’t remember the words to God Bless America? Nope. I hope you all remember that feeling and everything you felt afterwards. When the players start their offseason workouts, I hope the image of Cain pelting Holliday with a bush league move while up 7-0 gets seared into their brains. I sincerely hope the thought of Scutaro dying and being reborn like a phoenix motivates the guys to slide into 2B with bad intentions. I want them to remember how close they came to the World Series.
As for Mike Matheny, I don’t want to hear about how great he did for a rookie manager. This isn’t kindergarten, and you don’t get a scratch’n'sniff sticker for trying your hardest. Matheny made plenty of mistakes throughout the season. If he thinks calling for bunts from guys who do not do the bunting thing well seems like a good idea, he has 2 choices. He can keep trying to make square objects fit into undersized triangular passageways, or he can work on the bunting approach – the hitter’s or his (it matters not).
Matheny was basically handed the keys to a Ferrari, and he did a great job of turning it around in the driveway (like Rainman, he’s purported to be a very good driver). He’s got the same keys and pretty much the same Ferrari next year, so it’s time to get that thing onto the highway and start collective speeding tickets like ballers collect Kardashians. Maybe he’ll lose it in the first turn or maybe he’ll hydroplane into a truck, but he’s got to get it out there and go for it. Ferrari’s aren’t meant for hanging around in school zones, and we shall all be watching.
I’d like to leave you with some witticism or marvelously brilliant piece of advice, but that just won’t happen. Watching your team derp a 3-1 lead in the NLCS should stick in your craw for a while, and nothing I say will change that.
TIDBIT: I was asked quite a bit about comments I made about the Giants and Melky Cabrera. Obviously, the team has will go on and play as long as it can, and nobody should be surprised that they are unapologetic about doing so. The greater concern is the culture in San Francisco as it pertains to Barry Bonds and now Cabrera. Do they just realize that there is nothing to condemn, because it is ultimately the player who takes the fall and not the organization? I’d hate to think that, but I’m not yet impressed with the way Melky has or has not been addressed.