ST. LOUIS -- So much went off script for the Cardinals this season, including the finish that left the Cardinals a third-place team, their lowest standing since 2008.But the journey from an Opening Day walk-off win over the defending world champs to a sour season ending at home was dotted
ST. LOUIS -- So much went off script for the Cardinals this season, including the finish that left the Cardinals a third-place team, their lowest standing since 2008.
But the journey from an Opening Day walk-off win over the defending world champs to a sour season ending at home was dotted with plenty of intrigue. The Cardinals stayed in the postseason mix until the regular season's final days and highlighted the year with surprise emergences and impactful returns.
With the season now in the rearview mirror, here is a look back at five standout players, moments and themes from the year:
1. Pham's breakout season
After years of seeking a fit in the organization while fighting various injuries, Tommy Pham asserted himself as a piece of the Major League core moving forward. He pushed his way into an everyday role and went on to become the first Cardinals player since 1900 to finish a season with at least 20 homers, 20 doubles, 20 stolen bases and a .300 average.
"I couldn't be happier for him, because I've seen the work he's put in to get to this point and really, just the grind that he went through in the Minor Leagues," Matt Carpenter said of Pham. "I'm hoping that what we saw out of Tommy Pham this year will be something that we see more going forward."
2. Memphis muscle
The Cardinals enjoyed plentiful and impactful contributions from several players who opened the season in the Minors. Triple-A Memphis provided the pipeline, supplying the Cardinals with players nearly every time the club had a need.
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Pham and Paul DeJong were the standouts, as the two seized everyday roles and spent much of the season anchoring the lineup from the two- and three-hole. DeJong led the club in home runs (25), while Pham paced the Cardinals in several other offensive categories. Other rising position players made an impression, too, including Luke Voit, Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra.
On the pitching side, the Cardinals plugged Luke Weaver (7-2, 3.88 ERA) into the rotation for the final two months and were boosted in the bullpen by the arrivals of John Brebbia (2.44 ERA) and Ryan Sherriff (3.14 ERA). In total, the Cardinals had 11 players make their Major League debut this season.
3. The Rally Cat
When it comes to memorable moments, the timely visit by the Rally Cat on Aug. 9 surpassed all others. Locked in a close game against the Royals, a feral cat raced into the outfield in the sixth inning and delayed play while being corralled by a member of the grounds crew.
Its legacy was then sealed when Yadier Molina hammered the next pitch for a grand slam.
The Cardinals went on to win that night, one of eight straight victories they collected during their best run of the season. By the end of the run, the Cards had risen into a first-place tie in the National League Central.
4. Backup blueprint
Though the Cardinals completed a 10th consecutive winning season, they found themselves scrambling all year to fill unexpected deficiencies. It started in the bullpen, which never settled with Brett Cecil and Seunghwan Oh unable to hold down the late-inning roles. Oh was out as closer by midseason.
The lineup was ever-changing, too, especially near the top. Carpenter replaced projected leadoff hitter William Fowler in that top spot. Aledmys Diaz, who opened the year hitting second, spent half a season in the Minors. Stephen Piscotty, a preseason favorite to hit cleanup, found himself in Triple-A, as well. The Cardinals released Opening Day third baseman Jhonny Peralta in early June.
5. Welcomed in Williamsport
Chosen to participate in MLB's first Little League Classic, the Cardinals escaped the routine of the season to spend an August Sunday in Williamsport, Pa. It was a barnstorming trip of sorts, one highlighted by the Cardinals' visit to the Little League World Series. There, they spent time sitting alongside participants, serving snow cones and offering advice to aspiring big leaguers.
They capped their trip with an evening game at Historic Bowman Field, which was packed to capacity (2,596) with youth players and their families.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.