Remembering The Good Times

The season, like the last four before it, might have ended on a sour note with three straight losses, but the Cardinals had a lot going for them this year.  Now that we’ve had time to process that ending (and seen the Cubs swept away by the Mets, sparing us Armageddon), it’s appropriate, I think, to take a moment and appreciate what they accomplished and what they had to go through to get to where they wound up.

100 wins.  100 wins is nothing to dismiss lightly.  No team has won 100 since the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies as baseball has trended toward less of a superteam league.  (Granted, that ’11 Phillies team also lost in the NLDS and haven’t been close to competitive since, but I think the makeup of the Cardinal organization (along with the stronger front office) will keep that from happening under the Arch.)  Basically, out of every three games, the Cardinals won close to two of them.  They didn’t get swept in a three game series until the very end of the season.  The longest losing streak of the season was four.  One of baseball’s great gifts is being there every day and, more often than not, we as fans got to end the day on a high note.

Carlos Martinez‘s emergence.  I was one of those that wasn’t sure exactly what we would see out of Martinez this season.  I wondered if he’d have the control to be able to go deep enough into games for him to be an effective starter.  I knew his talent was impressive, but I wasn’t sure he could harness it enough to be the front-line starter most had predicted him to be.  Thankfully, I was way wrong.  (This is not a surprise).

All Tsunami did was go 14-7, come just short of 180 innings which worked out to just over an average of 6 innings a start (when you take out those two one-inning relief appearances out of the mix), strike out over nine batters per nine innings, and post an ERA right at 3.00 at the end of the season, though he was below that level for most of the year.  If his shoulder injury hadn’t come at the absolute worst time, he could have easily been the Game 1 starter for the postseason and his loss set off a chain of events that helped lead to the short postseason run.

Record pitching.  As a team, the Cardinals allowed just 525 runs.  The Dodgers and Pirates came in second and third in that category, allowing 595 and 596 runs, respectively.  That means that the Cardinals allowed .43 runs less per game than a team that featured Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke and about the same on a team that won 98 games.  We know that the offense wasn’t any great shakes, but it didn’t have to be.  When you watched this team most nights, you were surprised if two runs didn’t win the game.  When your entire staff puts up an ERA less than three, you are doing something right.  It may not have been 1968, but these Cardinal pitcher made a lot of people start drawing those comparisons.

Jason Heyward.  At the end of April, Heyward was hitting .217 with two home runs and more strikeouts (17) than runs and RBI combined (13).  With Shelby Miller off to such a strong start in Atlanta, some folks were questioning why John Mozeliak made that trade.  (The other piece of that puzzle, Jordan Walden, went down around that time which didn’t help either.)  All Heyward did after that point was hit .306, crack 11 home runs, score 70 runs, steal 22 bases and pretty much play the most exciting outfield defense since Jim Edmonds was sent to San Diego.  He had 10 outfield assists this season and at least half of them it seemed were throwing a runner out at home plate.  #SignJasonHeyward became the catchphrase of Twitter and other spots where St. Louis fans would congregate.  He was also one of the few bright spots in the postseason, hitting .357/.438/.643 in those four games.  There are other options should he go elsewhere, but it’s going to be hard to count this offseason a success if he does so.

Incredible moments.  There were some standout memories of this season.  Nobody will soon forget Jhonny Peralta‘s ninth-inning home run at Wrigley Field.  Or the three straight walkoff wins against the Pirates in Busch.  Or Heyward throwing out Anthony Rizzo at home in Wrigley in what was almost a must-win September game.  What about Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons stepping up in the clincher?  Greg Garcia hitting a pinch home run to tie a game against the Cubs late?  (So many of these came against Chicago this season!)

The debut of Stephen Piscotty.  Piscotty really was the overlooked man in the minor leagues.  Not in the sense that nobody knew about him, but that he always was in Oscar Taveras‘s shadow.  We expected OT to be the transforming presence, to revitalize the team and just become a superstar.  Piscotty was always the solid sidekick, the guy that would give you production but maybe not headlines.  Yet I would say (and probably will again when his Exit Interview comes around) that he was the second half MVP of the team.  When nothing was going right offensively, Piscotty was still up there with that stoic face lining base hits all around the yard.  I don’t think it’s hyperbole, given the tight race, to say that without Piscotty, this team probably gets passed by Pittsburgh and possibly Chicago in the second half.

A controlled Trevor Rosenthal.  Back at the beginning of the season, I talked with bullpen catcher Jamie Pogue (as is the tradition) and asked him about Rosenthal.  He said he thought we’d see a more focused, more in control Rosenthal this season and he wasn’t wrong.  Rosie threw just a couple of fewer innings this year than he did last year, but cut his walks by more than a third, from 42 to 25 while keeping his strikeouts roughly the same.  He gave up a couple (actually five) more hits, but his earned runs came way down and, basically, we stopped worrying every time a one-run lead was handed to him in the ninth.  It still occasionally got dicey but not anything like it did in 2014.  If he can keep that up, he’s going to be closing games for a long, long time.

Adam Wainwright‘s return.  When Uncle Charlie limped off the field in Milwaukee on April 25, everyone pretty much knew that was it.  The next day, when it was confirmed that he had torn his Achilles tendon, it was over.  Thanks, Adam, get better and we’ll see you in 2016.  There’s just not enough time for you to heal up to help this team.

Everyone knew that, of course, except Adam Wainwright.  Even at the time, he said he’d be back before October rolled around, but no one gave it much credence.  After all, he’d said the same thing in 2011 after his Tommy John surgery.  It was a carrot for him, a motivator, but it wasn’t really going to happen.

Until it did.  In the first game of a double header in Pittsburgh on September 30, with the season still hanging in the balance (though that game itself was out of reach), Adam Wainwright returned to a major league mound.  From then until the last game of the postseason, he threw 8.1 innings, allowed five hits and two runs, including a ill-timed homer, and basically looked exactly like Waino is supposed to look like.  Amazingly, given the right set of circumstances, he could have started in that NLDS and, if the Cardinals had been able to move on, there’s no doubt he’d have had at least one start against the Mets in the NLCS.  You don’t know what you have until it’s gone and having Wainwright return without having to wait for a long, cold winter to end was a wonderful thing to see.

Tripping the Light Phamtastic.  A spring training injury kept Tommy Pham from being a significant part of this team for the entire season, but once he healed up and got some time in Memphis, he got his first extended look at the major leagues and showed that he could play at that level.  While his first time around wasn’t so great, he returned in mid-August and had some explosive games, including a two home run game in Milwaukee that was part of back-to-back three hit nights.  The Phamtom Menace even was able to put Jon Jay on the bench, at least for a time, and got five at bats in the playoffs, clubbing a home run in his first time up.  Pham could be streaky at times, but he definitely held his own and probably looks to be at least an active fourth outfielder in the majors next season, more than that if injuries flare up again.  His speed/power mix is exciting to watch and gave us a lot of joy this season.

Those are some of my highlights for 2015.  I turned it over to Twitter with the same question and here’s what I got in response:

It didn’t end the way we wanted, but terming 2015 a failure is holding it to a too-exacting standard, in my book.  Anything can happen in the postseason, we’ve seen that too many times before.  If that’s your yardstick for success, then you are likely to be disappointed much of the time.  This team was the best team in baseball over 162 games.  That’s gotta mean something.  Now, on to 2016!

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