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Cardinals fall just short, but future is bright

St. Louis didn't win it all this year, however, club could be back in Fall Classic soon

BOSTON -- The end of the baseball season wasn't good enough to reflect on the accomplishments of the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals. It also won't work as a predictor of this club's future work.

The three-game World Series losing streak was not what 2013 was about for this team. But even a disappointing World Series will not erase its accomplishments. And it also will not cast a permanent shadow over the promise of the Cardinals.

To say that they could be back this way soon is to assume a great deal. But no club in Major League Baseball is better set up for success in the immediate future than the Redbirds.

"There's been a lot of talk about that, and rightfully so," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said Wednesday night, moments after a 6-1 Red Sox victory ended the World Series. "You look at the young arms. We've got experience behind the plate and in left and right. We've got a lot of young players out there. There's a lot of things to be excited about moving forward.

"It's really hard to think about at this point, because it's so rare and special to be on this stage. And you hate to see anything slip away -- not that we gave it away, they took it. They played us and they beat us."

Yes, this was a deadening end to a terrific season. There was a National League Central title, a league-best 97 victories, impressive victories in an NL Division Series over Pittsburgh and the NL Championship Series against Los Angeles.

There was, in fact, a 2-1 lead in the World Series, before the Red Sox took control of this Fall Classic and refused to give it back.

Lack of six-cess
The Cardinals fell to 6-8 in Game 6 of a World Series
Year Opponent Game 6 Series result
2013 Red Sox 6-1 L Red Sox in 6
2011 Rangers 10-9 W Cardinals in 7
1987 Twins 11-5 L Twins in 7
1985 Royals 2-1 L Royals in 7
1982 Brewers 13-1 W Cardinals in 7
1968 Tigers 13-1 L Tigers in 7
1967 Red Sox 8-4 L Cardinals in 7
1964 Yankees 8-3 L Cardinals in 7
1946 Red Sox 4-1 W Cardinals in 7
1944 Browns 3-1 W Cardinals in 6
1934 Tigers 4-3 W Cardinals in 7
1931 Athletics 8-1 L Cardinals in 7
1930 Athletics 7-1 L Athletics in 6
1926 Yankees 10-2 W Cardinals in 7

The end came Wednesday night at Fenway Park. The one absolute sure thing St. Louis had in this postseason was Michael Wacha, who had been brilliant: 4-0 with a 1.00 postseason ERA in four starts. But he was hit hard in Game 6 and could not get out of the fourth inning.

"Getting to the World Series is an incredible accomplishment, but this is very disappointing," Wacha said. "Everyone on the club wants that ring. I didn't want to win it for myself. I wanted to win it for those guys in that clubhouse who have been working all year. Whenever I have a poor outing like that, it hurts me even worse. I just feel like I let the team down. It's not a very good feeling, that's for sure."

There were occasions in this World Series when the brilliant young players of the Cardinals played like kids rather than accomplished veterans. The Cards relied on young players, particularly young pitchers, this season in an almost unprecedented way, and it worked. But on this big stage, some of the letdowns that might have been expected finally occurred.

The Cardinals' bats, meanwhile, had pitches to hit from Boston starter John Lackey, but when it counted most, they consistently were not able to capitalize. This was a slumping Cards lineup that did not resemble the relentless bunch that led the NL in runs scored (783) and hit a remarkable .330 with runners in scoring position during the regular season.

So the Cardinals lost the World Series in six games, and the Red Sox, rather than the Cards, won the honor of becoming the first team to win three World Series in this century.

Rook runs out of gas
Michael Wacha struggled in Game 6 on Wednesday after dominating in his last start of the regular season and in his previous four postseason starts
Date Opp. Game W L IP H ER BB K
9/24 Was.   1 0 8 2/3 1 0 2 9
10/7 @ Pit. NLDS 4 1 0 7 1/3 1 1 2 9
10/12 L.A. NLCS 2 1 0 6 2/3 5 0 1 8
10/18 L.A. NLCS 6 1 0 7 2 0 1 5
10/24 @ Bos. WS 2 1 0 6 3 2 4 6
10/30 @ Bos. WS 6 0 1 3 2/3 5 6 4 5
Totals     5 1 39 1/3 17 9 14 42

As painful as this was for the Cardinals -- climbing this close to the summit, but coming up just short -- they are positioned for the future in a way that few other franchises could be. The Cards have a strong base of talent in the everyday lineup, though right fielder Carlos Beltran is a free agent. They will probably need to address their situation at shortstop, but one way or another, they should have the resources to solve this problem.

An upgrade in center field is also needed, but the Redbirds could have that already on hand. Elite prospect Oscar Taveras could be the long-term answer. Only 21, he has repeatedly demonstrated his hitting ability in the Minors.

But the single largest strength of this organization is its incomparable supply of young front-line pitchers. There may be no other team in baseball that could have taken a 15-game winner (Shelby Miller ) out of its postseason rotation. There can be an objection to the Cardinals finding no role for Miller in the postseason, but that is not the point.

The Cards' postseason rotation still was loaded with talent. Behind ace Adam Wainwright were three extremely talented young pitchers -- Wacha, Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn. Carlos Martinez, who has been used as a setup man, is another young pitcher with top-shelf stuff and another candidate for the rotation in 2014.

On the face of it, the Cardinals will have what other clubs only dream of having -- a surplus of extremely talented pitchers.

The groundwork for success was reinforced this year. There were injuries, there were setbacks, but the Redbirds still reigned as the NL's best team.

"As we look through the season -- and we'll start doing that tonight, kind of reviewing what we were able to accomplish -- we had plenty of adversity," Matheny said. "[There were] plenty of things we had to overcome. And they did it in a style that represented the organization well, the way they played and didn't back off one second, of the way they prepared. It was a relentless team, and I think that's a way to label them. And I'm very proud to be a part of them."

The only thing missing was the storybook ending. But for the Cardinals, there should be more opportunities to create a better finish.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for
Read More: St. Louis Cardinals, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn