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Cards' inconsistent '17 had glimmers of promise

Pham's breakout, Ozuna's arrival portend good things for 2018
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- It was a year of unmet goals and breakout seasons, setbacks and surges. Inconsistency nagged at the Cardinals for much of 2017, but there was also much to celebrate.

The Cardinals remained in the postseason hunt until the final week of September, jolted, in part, by a rising group of young players who came as reinforcements from the Minors. Contract extensions became front-page news early on, while dramatic roster changes highlighted the final weeks of the year. Storylines were never in short supply.

ST. LOUIS -- It was a year of unmet goals and breakout seasons, setbacks and surges. Inconsistency nagged at the Cardinals for much of 2017, but there was also much to celebrate.

The Cardinals remained in the postseason hunt until the final week of September, jolted, in part, by a rising group of young players who came as reinforcements from the Minors. Contract extensions became front-page news early on, while dramatic roster changes highlighted the final weeks of the year. Storylines were never in short supply.

So with 2017 now about to end, let's take one last look back at five defining moments from the year:

Spring surgery
The Cardinals were one day into Spring Training when they learned that top prospect Alex Reyes required Tommy John surgery. It was a scene all too familiar to the Cardinals, who, in recent years, have declared Adam Wainwright (2011), Chris Carpenter ('13), Rafael Furcal ('13) and Jason Motte ('13) out for the season before the team played its first game.

"It sucks to go through this and miss an entire season, but if those are the things that have to happen for me to get back on the field at 100 percent, then that's what we have to do," Reyes said, upon learning that he had a torn ligament in his right elbow. "There are a lot of guys who have been through this surgery. The success rate is high. It's something I definitely look at."

Video: Cardinals react to Reyes needing Tommy John surgery

Reyes is still working through the rehab process and will likely miss the first month of next season. But his absence in 2017 cost the Cardinals depth in their starting rotation and a potential dynamic arm in the bullpen.

Pham-tastic
A series of injuries to outfielders in early May sent the Cardinals searching for reinforcements from their farm system. They ended up finding the team's MVP.

Tommy Pham, whose sluggish spring showing landed him back in Triple-A to start the year, joined the team in Atlanta and never looked back. He hit three home runs in his first series and later became the first player in franchise history to finish with at least 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .300 average. Pham became a fixture in left field and anchored the lineup as the Cardinals' two-hole hitter for most of the second half.

Video: Langosch discusses Pham breaking out in 2017

"He's always been somebody that we thought had the ability to be a special player," said John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations. "But between injuries, inconsistent performance from time to time, it always became a tougher bet to make. But to see him make the type of impact he's had on the club this year, it's obviously been something that has left a very positive impact on us."

The cat's meow
The high point of the Cardinals' season came early in August, when the club surged into a first-place tie with the Cubs in the National League Central Division. It's also when the Rally Cat made its first appearance.

In a moment that later inspired T-shirts, slogans and a theme night at the ballpark, a feral cat raced out onto the field during the sixth inning of the Cardinals' Aug. 9 home game against the Royals. Yadier Molina stepped out of the box while a grounds crew member corralled the kitty. Play resumed, and Molina turned the next pitch into a go-ahead grand slam. The Cardinals won the game to extend a winning streak that would eventually reach eight games.

"I saw the cat, and I knew something special was about to happen," Matt Carpenter said afterward. "It was pretty cool."

Video: An all-around look at Rally Cat

An abrupt ending
A franchise conditioned to playing in October was left to watch the postseason as spectators once again this year. It marked the first time since 2007-08 that the Cardinals had missed the playoffs in consecutive years. It stung, too, to be knocked out of contention by the Cubs.

One day after the Cubs clinched the NL Central title on the Cardinals' home field, they officially ended the Cardinals' Wild Card chances when Leonys Martin robbed Paul DeJong of what would have been a game-tying home run in the 11th. The Cardinals ended the season with 83 wins, three fewer than the previous year.

"It's just a frustrating, disappointing season as a team," Pham said. "When it's all said and done, everyone has to really self-evaluate and find ways to get better for next season."

Video: CHC@STL: Martin robs homer to seal Cubs' win in 11th

Offseason overhaul
That absence from the postseason prompted the Cardinals to push the reset button after the season. In early October, they telegraphed bold moves to come. By mid-December, they had made several.

Though the club was unsuccessful in their attempts to sell Giancarlo Stanton on St. Louis, it corrected course quickly and was the most active team at the Winter Meetings. There, the Cardinals traded prospects for Marcell Ozuna, who was one of the NL's most productive hitters in 2017, and cleared the outfield logjam by dealing Stephen Piscotty. The Cardinals also added to their pitching staff by signing reliever Luke Gregerson and starter Miles Mikolas.

Video: Ozuna ready to bring his bat to the Cardinals' lineup

"When you look at the last two years, you can certainly point to areas that didn't go as planned," Mozeliak said. "And as we enter now into how we start thinking about '18, there's just a lot to be excited about how this club looks today. And again, we may get more excited about it in time."'

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.

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