Oscar Taveras of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a solo home run, the first of his career, in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Busch Stadium on May 31, 2014 in St. Louis, Mo. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Choosing winners for awards is always tough, and when you’re dealing with the Cardinals and Cardinal bloggers, there aren’t really any wrong answers. Both the players and the bloggers who write about the team are talented and worthy of praise. Alas, we must pick winners. Below is my best attempt at doing so.
Cardinal Player of the Year
Nominees: Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta
Winner: Matt Carpenter
For me this came down to Carpenter and Peralta. Peralta filled the biggest need during last offseason and played a huge role in the team’s success last season. He led the team in home runs and both offensive and defensive Wins Above Replacement (WAR). For me, however, this award goes to Carpenter. He hit .272 in 2014, a bit below his .318 average of 2013, but still posted a team-high .375 on-base percentage, scored a team-high 99 runs, tallied a team-high 156 hits and hit eight home runs at the leadoff spot. The main reason I leaned toward Carpenter here was because of what he did in the Postseason. He hit .375 in the NLDS with three home runs and seven RBIs and added another home run in the NLCS.
Pitcher of the Year
Nominees: Lance Lynn, Pat Neshek, Adam Wainwright
Winner: Adam Wainwright
This was going to be Lance Lynn until I realized there was another category that’s more fitting for Lynn’s season. Wainwright, who finished third in the National League Cy Young voting, finished with a team-high 20 wins, a team-best 2.38 earned run average among starters, a team-high five complete games and 179 strikeouts, which was just two behind Lynn’s team-high 181. Wainwright proved to be a true ace and did so while dealing with tendinitis and other issues throughout the season. He still finished with a team-high 227 innings pitched.
Game of the Year
Winner: NLDS Game 4
The National League Division Series was a tremendous series overall, and I was fortunate to be present for Game 3. I’m kicking myself for not also going to Game 4, because in my opinion, that was the game of the year. The Dodgers were on the verge of tying the series and sending it back to Los Angeles for a decisive Game 5, and even though Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw wouldn’t be available that game, it felt like the Cardinals needed to close it out in Game 4 at home or else L.A. would win. On short rest, Kershaw looked dominant through six innings vs. the Cardinals, something that’s become somewhat of a trend. But, like in Game 1, the Cardinals got a seventh inning rally going and got two runners on base with no outs and Matt Adams up to bat. Then this happened.
Adams struggles against left-handed pitching — just three of his 15 home runs in 2014 came against lefties — so for him to do this in this moment against the best lefty and best pitcher in baseball was nothing short of miraculous. It really felt like he needed to hit a home run right then or else the Dodgers might have hung on. He came through, and the Cardinals won the series.
Most Surprising Player
Nominees: Jon Jay, Lance Lynn, Pat Neshek
Winner: Lance Lynn
This was between Lynn and Neshek for me. I won’t blame you if you chose Neshek here, because he’s got a helluva case. But Lynn has always been sort of an enigma to me. I was so uneasy about him that prior to one of his early-season starts that I compared the feelings I got before one of his starts to how I felt on days when Todd Wellemeyer started this season. I meant it, too. Lynn was so inconsistent and was impossible to predict. The “Lynning” was a real thing in the past. He’d start off on fire then have one big letdown, a mental breakdown and it would all unravel. In 2014, however, Lynn became the most reliable pitcher in the rotation and was absolutely vital in stabilizing a rotation that saw it’s share of injuries. One of my biggest knocks against Lynn has been that he was never able to finish out a full season. He’d be strong the first half or even into late August, but at some point would fizzle. Not this year. His 2.74 ERA was second among all starters, as was his 15 wins and 203.2 IP. He led the team in strikeouts with 181 and also threw two complete games, a sign of his much improved endurance. It cannot be overstated how valuable Lynn was to the rotation last season.
Most Disappointing Player
Nominees: Peter Bourjos, Justin Masterson, Kevin Siegrist
Winner (or loser?): Allen Craig
I’m actually going to go with a write-in vote on this one and say Allen Craig. Simply put, Craig’s final season with the Cardinals was miserable. A year removed from an MVP-caliber season, Craig looked like a shell of his former self, and it was painful to watch. It was clear something wasn’t right. Maybe he was still dealing with the foot injury that kept him out from September until the World Series last season. If not that, it was something. He was clearly not right. He hit .237 with just seven home runs, 44 RBIs and 77 strikeouts. This was a year after an All-Star season in which he hit .315 with 13 home runs, 97 RBIs and led the league in batting average from runners in scoring position, and that was even with missing a full month. There were huge plans for Craig this season and even Matheny refused to believe that there was an obvious decline. He ran Craig out in right field just about every day until GM John Mozeliak had finally seen enough and shipped him up to Boston.
Rookie of the Year
Nominees: Marco Gonzales, Randal Grichuk, Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong
Winner: Kolten Wong
I don’t think it’s particularly close in this category. After some early struggles, or “adversity,” Wong blossomed into the type of player the Cardinals envisioned when they drafted him. He was a sound defensive second baseman with a tremendous bat. He provided a combination of power, speed and glove skills at the second base position that the Cardinals haven’t seen in some time. His .249 average will be a point of emphasis this offseason, but he hit 12 home runs, drove in 42 runs, stole a team-high 20 bases and also displayed some walk-off heroics a couple times. He hit three home runs in the Postseason was arguably the best hitter in the NLCS for the Cardinals. He finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, so his debut season stacked up well with the rest of the league’s best newbies.
Acquisition of the Year
Nominees: John Lackey, Pat Neshek, Jhonny Peralta
Winner: Jhonny Peralta
Peralta was exactly what the Cardinals needed this season. After several years of below-average offensive play at the shortstop position, Peralta came in a led the team in home runs (21) and doubles (38) and helped stabilize the middle of the batting order. His 21 home runs was a new record for home runs by a Cardinal shortstop. His 5.8 WAR was tops on the team, as was his 0WAR (4.0) and dWAR (2.6). He was arguably the best all-around player during the regular season. The Cardinals paid a good chunk of change to get him and get proved to be worth every single penny.
Most Anticipated Cardinal
Nominees: Rob Kaminsky, Stephen Piscotty, Luke Weaver
Winner: Stephen Piscotty
Matt Carpenter is my favorite player, and all I’ve heard about Piscotty is that he’s a Carpenter-esque player. If that’s true, I think there will be a spot for him somewhere. He might not possess the kind of power that most want in a corner outfielder, but good hitters will still hit. I think he’ll be able to make an impact.
Cardinal Moment of the Year
Winner: Oscar Taveras’ home run in the rain
Everything is put in perspective given the horrible, tragic death of Taveras this offseason. But we’ll always have that special moment when he connected for the first time, sending a Yusmeiro Petit pitch into the right field bleachers. Taveras’ debut was one of the most anticipated days that I can remember as a Cardinals fan. For six years or so we’ve heard about this kid Taveras who can just mash baseballs, and about how great of a player he’ll be. We had to wait and wait to see him, and when we finally got to, it was quite a scene. He looked physically imposing, like a guy who was just ready to unload on a ball at any moment. A lot of times in sports, and even life, we often look forward to something or prop something up so much that we’re somewhat let down when we finally experience this. Taveras delivered exactly what we all were dreaming of in his debut. We all had envisioned his sweet swing driving a ball out of the park, and the moment it took off his bat, we knew. I literally got chills as I watched it happen and even today I’m so grateful I was able to be able to watch that moment on TV as it happened. It’s one of my favorite moments as a Cardinals fan and it’s how I’ll always, always remember Oscar. There was just something supernatural, superhero-esque about it all, with the rain coming down and all. In a way, it’s a moment that will define his career. I’m glad he got to have that moment, and I’m especially thankful us Cardinals fans have that memory to look back on.
Let’s watch it again.
Rest in peace, OT.
Best Individual Cardinal Blog
Winner: C70 At the Bat
Daniel seems to truly love blogging. It’s evident through his work, his tweets and even when you just talk to him. There are some bloggers who post a large amount of stuff but without much substance. Daniel is able to produce a high a volume but with quality content. For someone who’s also balancing a wife and kids, that;s impressive. All of his posts are well thought-out and not hasty that others who post a lot. His posts are always interesting and engaging.
Best Team Blog
Winner: Viva El Birdos
I’ve gotten to know a lot of the writers at Viva El Birdos and have really enjoyed their work. They’re genuine people who bring a good balance of analysis, wit and humor — three characteristics that I think are vital for sports blogs to be successful. They have a good posting regimen and each writer seems to have an area of expertise. They’re a valuable part of the Cardinals blogging community.
Best Media Coverage
Winner: Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
As a journalist and sports writer myself, Derrick Goold has always been someone whose work I follow closely. When I was learning in college how to cover beats while working for WKU’s student newspaper, I often found myself studying Derrick’s work and how he went about his business. For anyone journalism students out there, there aren’t many better people to follow than him. Derrick traveled to the Dominican Republic to cover Oscar Taveras’ funeral. I know there will be a lot of people who won’t think twice about that and will sort of take it for granted, but the journalist in me gained a ton of respect for him for doing that. It’s one thing to cover the local team when they’re playing games or even during the offseason. But he boarded a plane and flew to a foreign country to cover an extremely delicate story and did an outstanding job doing so. He and his photographer also had a good amount of their equipment stolen while covering the funeral but never once complained publicly about it. They just went on doing the job they were there to do. It’s extremely impressive and worthy of praise.
Best Cardinal Rookie Blog
Nominees: High Sock Sunday, Bird Tales, Baseball Geek in Galveston, Cajun Cardinal, Gateway Sports Connection, Red Cleat Diaries
Winner: Bird Tales
Tara is one of the most knowledgeable baseball people I know and she’s able to showcase that in her writing. She has a journalism background and as someone who works in the business, it’s clear that that training shows in her writing and is able to separate her from others. She has a wide range of skills and can put together a post where she’s breaking down matchups and numbers or she can use her writing skills and put together a well thought-out post memorializing the life of Oscar Taveras. I can’t wait to see how much her blog grows next year.
Post of the Year
Winner: ‘The Lynning: Fact or Fiction’ by Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At the Bat
First, let me just say that I’m pretty sure I was the first person to coin the term “Lynning.” I tweeted it well before I saw anyone else using it and then it began to catch on. Anyway, needless to say when Daniel Shoptaw tweeted this post, it caught my attention. Anyone who can take an issue, or in this case a narrative, and put together a post that endeavors to prove said narrative wrong, it earns my respect. Daniel went really in-depth with this post and outlined some fascinating data about Lance Lynn starts and whether or not he actually does suffer from the “Lynning,” as was mentioned earlier, or if there were other factors that contributed to it. This post used a ton of charts and figures to help Daniel make his point and I would venture to say that it contained the most research of any blog post I read all season.
Best UCB Project
Winner: UCB Roundtable
This was a fun project in which all of the bloggers got to ask a question and see how all of our peers felt about that topic. It was a good way to learn about how fellow bloggers view certain players, the organization and even the management. For me, it was the most valuable project because I was able to have meaningful discussions with smart baseball people about topics that we all came up with.
Best UCB Podcast
Nominees: Conversations with C70, Gateway to Baseball Heaven, UCB Radio Hour
Winner: UCB Radio Hour
I’ve had the fortune of going on UCB Radio Hour with Tara Wellman and others before and it’s always been a solid program that’s never short on topics to discuss. Rarely does it even finish in the allotted time block because there’s always plenty to discuss.
Best Non-UCB Podcast
Nominees: Best Podcast in Baseball, St. Louis Cardinals Extras, Viva El Birdos Podcast
I’ll be honest. I’ve not listened to any of the nominees, so I don’t feel like I can cast a vote in this category.
Winner: A.J. Blankenship (@GSC_AJ)
A.J. has become one of my better friends in the blogging community and a big reason for that is that we see eye-to-eye on a lot of things regarding Cardinal baseball. He and I always have good discussions during the season and he’s able to provide takes with quality backup. It’s a crime he doesn’t have more followers because he’s a knowledgeable baseball fan who has a good mix of analysis, humor, snark and sensitivity in his tweets.
Picking these winners was hard because I felt like most categories, particularly the blogger categories, could’ve had multiple winners. Thanks for reading. Enjoy the offseason.
Follow Cole Claybourn @HighSock_Sunday or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.