2015 about overcoming adversity for Cardinals
Loss of Taveras, tons of injuries not enough to keep St. Louis from third straight NL Central crown
ST. LOUIS -- Instead of allowing the 2015 season to become defined by the continual punches of adversity they sustained, the Cardinals turned the campaign into one marked by resiliency.
In overcoming the loss of a young teammate and the absence of so many key players due to injury, the Cardinals showcased their pitching prowess en route to 100 wins. Losing streaks were rare. The emergence of another batch of impact rookies was promising, while a historic run by the starting rotation helped sustain an offense often lacking in production.
A third straight National League Central title punctuated the season, while an NL Division Series loss to the rival Cubs soured the ending of it. So with the calendar about to flip ahead another year, here is one last look at five top moments from the Cardinals' 2015 season:
5. Walk-off weekend: What was to be an early-season litmus test against their rivals in Pittsburgh turned into the most dramatic series of the Cardinals' season. Over the first weekend of May, the Cards celebrated three extra-inning, walk-off wins to sweep the Pirates out of Busch Stadium. The two teams combined to score just 11 runs in the series.
It marked the first time the Cardinals had three consecutive walk-off victories in extra innings since July 7-10, 1987, when they did so four days in a row. The tight series also served as a harbinger for the tight NL Central race ahead. In the end, Pittsburgh finished two games behind St. Louis for the second straight season.
Perhaps Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said it best when he quipped that Sunday afternoon, "I always had World Cup soccer on my bucket list. And I just got a weekend of it."
4. Martinez pitches with a purpose: While still mourning the tragic death of best friend and teammate, Oscar Taveras, Carlos Martinez arrived at Spring Training vowing to dedicate the season ahead to his late friend. He took Taveras' number (18) and channeled the emotions and forced maturity into a breakout season.
A full-time member of the rotation for the first time in his career, Martinez had an All-Star season in which he posted a 3.01 ERA and a team-high 184 strikeouts while making 29 starts. None of those performances was more poignant, however, than the one he made on May 31, a day the Cardinals invited the Taveras family to Busch Stadium to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Oscar's Major League debut.
After crying through his warmup pitches, Martinez twirled seven scoreless innings while allowing one hit in a win over the Dodgers. Afterward, speaking of Taveras' parents, who had had never seen their son play at Busch, Martinez said, "I wanted to give that gift [to] them."
3. Rosenthal sets franchise saves mark: Trevor Rosenthal followed up a 45-save season with a record-setting 48-save campaign in 2015. As a second-year closer, Rosenthal moved past Lee Smith (1991) and Jason Isringhausen (2004) on the franchise's all-time leaderboard.
"It's very special, but I don't put a lot of value into the immediate results," Rosenthal said of setting the club's new save standard. "I'm just trying to go out every day and give it my best and hope everything goes well. It definitely means a lot to me to do it with the organization that I came up with and gave me a chance and drafted me -- and with a lot of guys in this clubhouse who I came up with."
Rosenthal tied the pair of former Cardinals closers on Sept. 21 before a 25-pitch save against the Pirates on Sept. 28 put him alone atop the list. The right-hander blew just three saves all season and enjoyed one stretch of 23 straight scoreless appearances.
2. Wainwright bucks the odds: Adam Wainwright's season was supposed to end on April 25, when he hobbled off the field after popping his left Achilles tendon. Doctors told him he'd be out for the season, needing a recovery time of 9-to-12 months before returning to the mound.
But Wainwright never bought that prognosis. Pushing himself as far as the doctors would allow, Wainwright stunned everyone but himself when he entered in relief at PNC Park on Sept. 30. Wainwright pitched out of the bullpen in the postseason and was in the conversation to start Game 5 of the NLDS, had the Cardinals pushed that series deeper.
In a season in which the Cardinals lost so many key players to injury, Wainwright's unexpected late-season contributions offered a bright spot amid the loss.
1. 100 wins, but home too soon: Playing in the Majors' toughest division, the Cardinals held off the pursuing Cubs and Pirates to capture a third consecutive division title. The Cards won 100 games along the way, needing almost every one of those victories to assure themselves of a spot in the postseason for the fifth straight season.
"This is real special, just because of the adversity that was thrown at us," Matt Carpenter said during the club's champagne celebration. "We talked about what's happened in the calendar year. You have a teammate pass away in Oscar [Taveras]. You just have player after player hit the DL. You lose your ace. You lose your three-hole hitter [Matt Holliday] for a lot of the season. It just seems like one thing after another kept happening. But this team never quit, and [it] went on to win as many games as [it has] since I've been here. It's just amazing."
It marked the ninth 100-win season in franchise history, and the first by anyone in baseball since the 2011 Phillies. But like those Phillies, the Cardinals couldn't get out of the NLDS. Chicago parlayed a third-place NL Central finish into a Wild Card victory and ride past St. Louis to become the division's last team standing. For the Cardinals, it marked the first time in manager Mike Matheny's tenure that the club had not advanced to at least the NL Championship Series.