The 5 best seasons by Cardinals pitchers

December 14th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- There is a no-doubt winner when we stack up the best pitching seasons in Cardinals history, but the rest of the list offers some intriguing names and years in the franchise’s long history. Regardless, there have been some incredible seasons featuring St. Louis pitchers over the years.

Like we did with the hitters, each pitcher could only appear for one season on this list. Here are the top five individual seasons by a pitcher in Cardinals history.

1. Bob Gibson, 1968
Key fact: His 1.12 ERA is the third-best mark in MLB since 1900, and the best in a season not played in the Deadball Era (1901-20)

The number 1.12 is widely recognizable across baseball, and it describes the ERA belonging to Gibson’s 1968 season. The greatest Cardinals pitcher of all time had arguably the greatest season of all time during his National League Cy Young Award and NL MVP Award-winning campaign, when he allowed only 38 earned runs across 304 2/3 innings. The imposing right-hander had 28 complete games in 34 starts, 13 of them being shutouts. He struck out 268 batters, fanning 7.9 per nine innings. And his 0.853 WHIP led the NL that year.

"I never went to the mound when he was pitching," catcher Tim McCarver once said. "What is a catcher going to tell someone like him -- how to throw a pitch? Nobody had to tell him what to do. He was as locked in over a 34-start season as any pitcher in the history of the game."

Gibson redefined dominance -- and was part of the cause of MLB lowering the height of the mound from 15 inches to 10 in 1969. Pitchers excelled in '68, but none more than Gibson.

In Game 1 of the 1968 World Series, Gibson struck out 17 batters -- a World Series record that still stands. The Cardinals lost that Fall Classic, but Gibson’s masterpiece lives on more than 50 years later.

2. Dizzy Dean, 1934
Key fact: Won 30 games to become the first NL pitcher to reach that number since 1917, and he is still the last to do it in the NL

The engine of the Gashouse Gang in the 1930s, Dean had a magical '34 season, He started 33 games, had 24 complete games, pitched seven shutouts and made 17 relief appearances, notching seven saves. He did pretty much everything for a World Series-winning team -- he even skipped a few games to protest the salary the Cardinals paid his brother, Paul, a rookie. Four of Dean’s 30 wins came in the final 10 days of the season, all in the heat of a pennant race.

Dean finished 1934 with a 30-7 record, a 2.66 ERA and 195 strikeouts. In Game 7 of the World Series against Detroit, Dean struck out five, walked none and allowed six hits in a complete-game shutout. His two wins in the Series combined with his brother's two wins delivered the Cardinals their third World Series championship.

3. Chris Carpenter, 2005
Key fact: Became the first Cardinals pitcher to win a Cy Young Award since Gibson in 1970

Carpenter’s Opening Day start, a seven-inning, one-run victory against Houston, was a preview of things to come in 2005. The NL Cy Young Award winner that year, Carpenter went 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA across 241 2/3 innings, pitching an MLB-high seven complete games and striking out 213 against 51 walks. He was dominant, only a season after an injury sidelined him for the Cardinals’ postseason run.

Carpenter didn’t lose a game in 16 starts from June 14-Sept. 8. During that period, he went 13-0 with a 1.36 ERA. By the All-Star break, he had 128 strikeouts and 13 wins and threw a one-hitter against the Blue Jays, his former team. He was selected to his first All-Star Game that summer, and NL manager Tony La Russa chose him as the starting pitcher. The season was a complete turnaround from two years before, when injuries caused him to question his career. The Cardinals signed him as a free agent and remained patient -- and it paid off, not just in 2005, but the next several years.

"I really felt that there was more in there," Carpenter said after winning the Cy Young Award in 2005. "When I came back last year, I knew I wasn't going to take anything for granted. ... Mentally, I grew up a lot."

4. John Tudor, 1985
Key fact: Finished second in NL Cy Young Award voting after starting the season 1-7

Yes, Tudor started the 1985 season with only one win compared to seven losses. As of May 29, his ERA was 3.74. But Tudor lost only one more game that season, and he won 20 more. In the left-hander's remaining 26 starts that year, he posted a 1.37 ERA and had 10 shutouts.

The race for the NL East between the Mets and the Cardinals that year was a delight, and Tudor was right in the middle of it. On Sept. 11, the date of Tudor’s third consecutive shutout, he and Doc Gooden matched zeros for nine innings at Shea Stadium. César Cedeño homered off Jesse Orosco in the 10th inning, and Tudor finished a three-hitter in 10 innings. About three weeks later, against the Mets again, Tudor pitched 10 scoreless innings. But Ron Darling threw nine of his own, and Darryl Strawberry’s 11th-inning homer off Ken Dayley scored the game’s only run.

Tudor won Game 1 of the World Series against the Royals and followed up with a shutout at home in Game 4. But the season’s workload caught up to him in Game 7, and he allowed five runs in 2 1/3 innings. Still, the 1985 season was an amazing showing for Tudor, and for the Cardinals in the middle of their dominance of the 1980s.

5. Mort Cooper, 1942
Key fact: Won the NL MVP Award with 22 wins and a 1.78 ERA

Plagued by arm injuries his entire career, Cooper recovered from an elbow operation to lead the NL with 22 wins, 10 shutouts and a 1.78 ERA in 1942. Cooper erased the concern that he had lost some of his stuff with a shutout of Cincinnati in his second start of the season. He began May by pitching five consecutive complete games, winning three, and he won all seven of his starts in June, with six complete games, four shutouts and a 0.72 ERA.

According to the Society for American Baseball Research, Cooper decided to wear No. 14 in search of his 14th win on Aug. 14. The result was a two-hit shutout of the Reds, and Cooper decided to wear the jersey number corresponding to each win he needed the rest of the season.

Cooper struggled against the Yankees in the World Series, but the Cardinals still won the championship. Cooper, who spent eight years with St. Louis, was elected to the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2019.

Honorable mentions

Bruce Sutter, 1984
Sutter finished third in NL Cy Young Award voting after posting a 1.54 ERA across 122 2/3 innings and notching a Major League-leading 45 saves.

Harry Brecheen, 1948
Brecheen won the NL ERA title with a 2.24 mark, and the lefty also struck out an NL-leading 149 batters that season. He finished fifth in NL MVP Award voting.