Pitching prevails in Cards' century-mark '15
ST. LOUIS -- How the Cardinals will be judged for their 2015 performance will largely depend upon what part of the season is weighted more heavily.
This was a club that won 100 games -- becoming the first team in the Majors to do so since the 2011 Phillies won 102 -- en route to capturing a third straight National League Central title. And to do so without so many key contributors made the achievement especially notable.
Ace Adam Wainwright, three-hole hitter Matt Holliday, cleanup Matt Adams, setup man Jordan Walden and veteran reliever Matt Belisle each missed significant chunks of the season. Injuries to Yadier Molina, Carlos Martinez, Randal Grichuk, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn and Jon Jay only added to the difficulty of holding off the Pirates and Cubs, whose win totals of 98 and 97, respectively, made the NL Central baseball's toughest division.
But in a city where success is measured by championships, the Cardinals' early postseason exit still stings. The Cardinals won just one game in October as they were bumped from the playoffs by, of all clubs, their archrivals in the NL Division Series -- the Cubs. The push that had gotten the Cardinals to the brink of their fifth straight NL Championship Series appearance left them on empty by the time the postseason started.
"To me, the toughest part about this season ending as quickly as it has is the fact that I believe we had a team that knew how to win," manager Mike Matheny said two days after the Cardinals' season ended at Wrigley Field. "As you look around that clubhouse at the end of the season, you see grown men with tears. You see grown men with that same disappointment that is felt all over this community right now, because we felt we had what we needed to go and beat every other team that was left out there."
As the organization shifts its attention from what it was to what it hopes it'll be in 2016, here is one last look at all that transpired since camp opened in February.
Record: 100-63, first place, NL Central
Defining moment: It had to be on Sept. 28, the opening date for a three-game series against a Pirates team that trailed St. Louis by just three games in the division. And it became a game that perhaps best showed the resiliency that defined the Cardinals over the six-month regular season.
They kept the Pirates scoreless and 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position, despite the Bucs loading the bases in four different innings. And then, after watching rookie outfielder Stephen Piscotty carted off the field following a violent collision with Peter Bourjos, the club knocked All-Star closer Mark Melancon around for three ninth-inning runs to seal the win. Two days later, the Cardinals celebrated a division title.
What went right: The club was anchored by its pitching staff, which allowed fewer runs (525) than any team since the 1969 Orioles. The Cardinals allowed two or fewer runs in 80 games and did this, too, despite minimal contributions from their ace, Wainwright.
Trevor Rosenthal established a franchise record with 48 saves, while his primary setup man, Kevin Siegrist, enjoyed a bounceback season. Before an October slip, Siegrist became the third Cards lefty to make at least 81 appearances in a season and set a Cards left-handed reliever record with 90 strikeouts.
Matt Carpenter, seeking to showcase his power, hit more home runs this season (28) than he had in previous four combined (25), all while seeing little dip in his on-base percentage. Carpenter led the team in several offensive categories.
After making just 16 starts over the previous two seasons, Jaime Garcia returned from his third arm injury and posted a 2.43 ERA over 20 starts. He was one of several standout starting pitchers, with Carlos Martinez also shining in his first full season as a starter and John Lackey emerging as the rotation's most consistent hurler. He did not allow more than three earned runs or pitch fewer than six innings any home start he made.
As a first-year Cardinal, Jason Heyward gave the team exactly what it hoped he would. He played a Gold Glove-worthy right field, showcased himself as the team's best baserunner and was arguably the team's most consistent hitter over six months.
The contributions from an array of rookies were substantial, too. From Piscotty to Grichuk, Tommy Pham to Greg Garcia, Mitch Harris to Miguel Socolovich, the Cardinals were buoyed by the production from their youngsters all year.
What went wrong: All those injuries that the Cardinals pushed past with remarkable resiliency during the regular season caught up with them in the playoffs. The team's pitching depth grew thin, and the offense struck out 39 times in three straight NLDS losses to the Cubs.
The Cardinals' non-waiver Trade Deadline activity fortified a few areas, but the acquisitions did not, collectively, provide a substantial boost. Steve Cishek was left off the playoff roster. Jonathan Broxton became a late-inning option but showed shaky command at times. Brandon Moss delivered a few key hits, but not consistently.
Randy Choate, finishing out the final season of his three-year contract, struggled in his lefty specialist role. He made 20 appearances in which he didn't retire a batter, setting a Major League record.
After having offseason wrist surgery and signing a two-year extension with the club, Jay fell flat offensively in 2015. He lost his starting job in center field, twice went on the disabled list and hit just .210/.306/.257 over 79 games.
Biggest surprise: Garcia's ability to (mostly) stay on the field. The Cardinals came to spring training with minimal expectations for Garcia, who had been riddled with various injuries since 2011. His chances of contributing meaningful innings only seemed to decrease when he couldn't get through camp healthy. But Garcia did return, made 20 starts, and, by the end of the season, had become one of the team's most reliable pitchers.
Hitter of the year: Carpenter. His profile changed this year with a surge in power and a spike in strikeouts, but he did it all without sacrificing many OBP points. Even though he dealt with a bout of extreme fatigue and a summer slump, Carpenter's offensive numbers were there in the end. He led the NL in doubles (44) and the team in home runs (28), runs (101), RBIs (84) and multi-hit games (51).
Pitcher of the year: While several starting pitchers could vie for this spot, let's give it to Rosenthal, who was sensational in his second full season as a closer. He became just the seventh player in Major League history to post consecutive 45-save seasons and had streaks of 21- and 18-consecutive save opportunities converted. He blew just three saves and ranked eighth among NL relievers with a 2.13 ERA.
Rookie of the year: By a nose, this will go to Piscotty over Grichuk, though both had terrific rookie seasons. But Piscotty showed himself as more consistent and provided an immediate impact after ascending to the Majors on July 21. He hit safely in 47 of 63 regular-season games played and then became the second rookie in Major League history to hit three home runs in his first four career postseason games.