We’ve talked a lot this year about what’s wrong with the Cardinals. When a team that we expect to be in the postseason flounders to 83 wins this year and misses October for the second consecutive year while the Cubs continue their season, it’s not surprising that things are going to turn negative. As a respite, though, let’s take a look at five things that actually went St. Louis’s way this past season.
1) Tommy Pham–We’ll get more into Pham’s season when we go through the Exit Interviews in a couple of weeks, but no mention of high points is complete without the player that was the team’s MVP for the season. Pham showed why so many have been high on him in his career, staying healthy and keeping his eyesight intact. Whether this is a career year or the basis of production to come is still uncertain, but there’s no doubt that without Pham, the Cardinals would have had their season end about the same time as the Giants this season.
2) A weak division–Of course, as we say this the Cubs are back in the NLCS (Go Dodgers!), but as a general fact the NL Central had no juggernaut in it like Chicago was in 2015. Remember, with basically six weeks left in the season, the Cardinals were tied for the division lead with the baby bears. The teams obviously went separate directions after that, somewhat bolstered by the fact the Cards could never seem to beat the Cubs head-to-head, but there is no reason a team that spent over half the season under .500 should still have an active postseason life the last week of the season. The 2017 Cardinals did, though. How different would things have been if they’d been 10-15 games out at the trading deadline?
3) Paul DeJong–When Aledmys Diaz came out and flopped hard from last year’s highs, the club eventually made the call to Memphis to bring up Paul DeJong. I don’t think even seasoned prospect watchers really expected what St. Louis got from the young man. His power was unmistakable and he even though he slumped to start September, it still felt like he was being a little more patient, that he was learning a few things. He’s been called another Randal Grichuk and maybe he is, but I feel like he’s going to be more balanced than Grichuk has been. Whatever the future holds, having him shore up shortstop was a huge key for this season.
4) Matthew Bowman and Tyler Lyons–We continue to make jokes about Bowman’s arm falling off or the fact that he is, right this moment, out in the bullpen warming up, but there’s no doubt that he was one of the more reliable options out of the pen. He went through some ups and downs and maybe the idea that people were more comfortable with him had to to do more with the company he kept, but it still didn’t usually scare folks when he came into the ballgame. As for the Patron Pitcher of the Blog, Lyons was the arm that seemed to inspire the most confidence in the second half, especially after Trevor Rosenthal went down. Whether just to face lefties or to soak up multiple innings, Lyons seemed to be able to do it all and it was more than this long-time Lyons booster noticing.
5) The Memphis brigade–DeJong wasn’t the only Memphis guy to get a call, not by a longshot. The easier question to ask might be who DIDN’T come up and contribute. While some were more limited (Luke Voit, Carson Kelly, Jack Flaherty, Sandy Alcantara) some, like Luke Weaver especially, chipped in considerably and the spark of Magneuris Sierra earlier in the year can’t be denied. If nothing else, having some of these new faces come up gave some interest and excitement to parts of the season that really felt stale.
The 2017 season wasn’t one that’s going to be remembered fondly by Cardinal fans. Let’s be honest, the only way that the season is remembered at all is if this offseason produces the major shakeup that we expect and the team responds to it. It’ll be remembered as a turning point, as when things got as bad as they were going to get. Otherwise, someone years from now might remember that this was the Pham season but other than that, it’s probably going to be lost to the mists of time. Before it goes, though, remember the good times!