UCB Annual Excerpt: 2013 Season In Review–April

As you should have heard by now, the United Cardinal Bloggers released their annual publication this past week.  Perhaps you’ve been wondering what this is all about.  Is it worth the $2.99?  Who all has written for this thing?  I mean, I completely understand if you are worried it’s just me in there, because then, sure, $2.99 might be a little high.  Free might be a little high then, I grant you.

It’s not just me, though, so you can rest assured on that point.  Besides the fact that we have Sports on Earth Senior Editor Will Leitch with a very cool foreword and Rotoworld and Hardball Talk regular writer Drew Silva talking about Michael Wacha, you get a who’s who list of regular UCB contributors.  You get…..

Matt Whitener (I70 Baseball, Cheap Seats Please) on Jason Motte
Mark Sherrard (Cardinals Fan In Cubs Land) on Adam Wainwright
Tara Wellman (Aaron Miles’ Fastball) on Shelby Miller
Kevin Reynolds (Cards ‘N Stuff) on Yadier Molina
Mark Tomasik (RetroSimba) on Matt Carpenter
Matt Phillip (Fungoes) on rookies and strikeouts
Joe Schwarz (Viva El Birdos) on Allen Craig
Bill Ivie (I70 Baseball) on the NL Central
Christine Coleman (Aaron Miles’ Fastball) on both Chris Carpenter and Joe Kelly
Dan Buffa (Dose of Buffa) on the young arms
John Nagel (Cardinals Farm) on the minor leagues
Rodney Knuppel (Saint Louis Sports) on the NLDS
Eugene Tierney (85% Sports) on Wainwright’s pitch counts
Mike Metzger (West Coast Redbird) on the NLCS
Josh Gilliam (Prospect Preacher, Pitchers Hit Eighth) on the World Series

That’s an All-Star lineup if I’ve ever seen one.  And these aren’t just quick hits, either.  We’re talking about 140 pages of Cardinal goodness for less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and I guarantee this book will last longer than that coffee will.

It could be you are still not convinced.  What if I gave you just a taste of what’s in there?  I can’t give away the real good stuff–I only have control over my work–but here’s the first article you’d find after Will’s great foreword.  Hopefully this will get you excited and, if so, here’s the link to purchase again.  Support your local bloggers!

(Oh, and don’t forget, last week to get in your opinions on the Cardinal Approval Ratings!)

————–

The 2013 Season In Review: April

When the first pitch of the first regular season game was thrown in Arizona, the Cardinals were well ready to get things under way, if only to get away from the hits the team kept taking while they gathered in Jupiter.

By all rights, it should have been an exciting time going into spring training for St. Louis. They were just a couple of hits or better pitching performances from coming off back-to-back World Series appearances and the odds seemed to be strong that 2013 would be even better. A stable bullpen, no obvious holes and, of course, the exciting possibility of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright anchoring the rotation yet again, just like old times. As the old song says, “Nothing’s gonna stop us now.”

That optimism and buzz didn’t even make it to the beginning of camp. For while players were starting to report to Jupiter in early February, Carpenter and John Mozeliak were having a press conference in St. Louis. The numbness that kept the stalwart pitcher out of most of 2012 was back and it seemed unlikely to go away this time. If it would return after a rib was removed, what else could Carpenter reasonably expect to do to keep it at bay?

While there were numerous in-house options to take Carpenter’s spot — eventually rookie Shelby Miller was awarded the role after a battle with Joe Kelly that went down to the wire — losing Carpenter’s fire, leadership and presence was a tough blow for this team to deal with and it quickly put a damper on the players gathering in Florida. And while the loss of Carpenter hurt, fans could tell themselves that the Cardinals had numerous options for the rotation with the depth that existed.

The second blow was not unexpected, but that fact didn’t make any of us feel better. After finishing 2012 on the disabled list, Rafael Furcal thought rest and rehab would heal his elbow. There was some disagreement on this point, but the club couldn’t or didn’t bring in a quality insurance policy. Furcal made it to Jupiter and still hoped to be healthy, although it didn’t take long before he was forced into Tommy John surgery — causing him to be out for the entire year. The injury put Pete Kozma into the starting shortstop spot, and Cardinal Nation could only hope his magic from September would carry over into the new year.

The final blow was completely unexpected. Jason Motte, who was the only Cardinal player to have a save in 2012, began struggling some in the spring. While most chalked it up to rust or working on other pitches, by the end of spring he was diagnosed with a strained elbow tendon and began the season on the disabled list. Unfortunately, the mild diagnosis didn’t hold up and Motte also had Tommy John surgery during the season.

Even though he missed a good chunk of spring training playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, Mitchell Boggs was anointed the closer when Motte went out. It seemed reasonable enough. Boggs was a very solid eighth inning man in 2012 and appeared to have the stuff to make the shift to the last inning.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom in Jupiter, however. For the third straight year, St. Louis went to spring camp with a major cog in their roster heading into his free agency year. The Cardinals did not sign Albert Pujols after 2011, but were able to come to an agreement with Yadier Molina during spring 2012.

This season, it was Adam Wainwright. After missing all of ‘11, Wainwright had rebounded in 2012 to show the ace stuff he had before his surgery. While he had been a little erratic at times, there was no doubt he was coming into form and the club needed to sign him in the spring before he priced himself out of their market.

The negotiations were never bitter, never spiteful and never ugly. Which is why, just a few days before the season began in earnest, Wainwright signed a five-year, $97.5 million extension to begin in 2014. After all the turmoil of the spring, locking up Wainwright on a below-market deal was music to many people.

With all of that as a backdrop, the Cardinals spent April 1 in Arizona, starting off the regular season on the road versus the Diamondbacks. After signing that big contract, Wainwright went out and allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings. Not exactly what the team had in mind, as they dropped the opener 6-2.

The Cards won the next night, then played a wild one in the series finale. Lance Lynn started but allowed two runs and left the game with two runner on and nobody out in the fifth. The bullpen promptly let them score. After leading 4-1 going into the bottom of the fifth, the Cards trailed 5-4.

They immediately stormed back, scoring three in the sixth off a two-run RBI double by Daniel Descalso and an RBI single by Matt Holliday. The bullpen, though, couldn’t hold that 7-5 lead, allowing the Diamondbacks to tie the game when Martin Prado served up a two-run homer off of Joe Kelly in the bottom of the frame.

Yadier Molina led off the seventh with a long ball and it was quickly 8-7. Back came the Diamondbacks, who tied it in the bottom of the eighth off of Trevor Rosenthal with an RBI single by Aaron Hill.

Extra innings beckoned and it seemed like the Cardinals were going to put it to rest in the 12th. Pete Kozma’s second hit of the night plated Molina and St. Louis was just three outs away from a series win.

The Diamondbacks had the “grit” label applied to them all season, and it was no different in this game. Mitchell Boggs allowed a hit by Cliff Pennington and then hit Eric Chavez. Gerardo Perra bunted them over and then Prado again was the spoiler, driving in the tying run with a sacrifice fly. The teams played on.

Finally, in the bottom of the 16th, Fernando Salas (who was into his third inning of work) walked Jason Kubel and Arizona bunted him to second. A single by Pennington and finally this game was over. This wasn’t the last 16-inning affair the Cards would play this season, but it may have been the wildest.

Even though St. Louis lost that series, it didn’t set the tone for the month at all. In fact, they won or tied every other series in April until facing Pittsburgh in Busch at the end of the month. They threw four shutouts in the month as the pitching staff established itself as a dominant factor in the National League. They scored double-digits three times, but weren’t nearly as consistent on the offensive side of things, scoring 10 one night and two the next. Still, by the end of the month, they were a half-game ahead of the Brewers and the Pirates for first place in the Central. One of those teams wouldn’t be an issue. One of them, though, would be a thorn the rest of the season and into October …

April record: 15-11
Total record: 15-11
Lead/deficit: 0.5 games ahead

April OPS: .677 (14th in the NL)
April ERA:  3.15 (1st in the NL)

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