88-74, 2nd in the NL Central, 2nd Wild Card
Lost in the NLCS to the Giants
After winning the 2011 World Series in dramatic fashion the Cardinals came within one win of making it back to rekindle the 2006 series against the Tigers. But falling short can hardly be called a failure in a game filled with parity. The Cardinals had an amazing season that was capped off by one of the more amazing wins in recent memory.
They lost Albert Pujols to free agency and Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan to retirement after 2011, but the Cardinals didn’t panic and had a solid season. They won the inaugural NL Coin Flip game against the Braves with a little help from a bad call and came back to stun the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS. They took a 3-1 lead on the Giants in the NLCS, but couldn’t close the deal and went home one win shy of the Fall Classic.
The offense led the way as we all thought it would. Yadier Molina (6.5), Matt Holliday (5.1), David Freese (4.1), Jon Jay (4.1), Carlos Beltran (3.6), and Allen Craig (3.1) all racked up solid to great WARs and role players like Matt Carpenter and Pete Kozma delivered when they needed them to do so.
All told, they were baseball’s second best offense and third best group of position players when you factor in defense. As expected, they Cardinals bats delivered.
But the league’s 9th best pitching staff also called Busch Stadium home in 2012. Adam Wainwright led the staff (4.4 WAR) and had a great #2 in the form of Kyle Lohse’s breakout year (3.6). Lance Lynn and Jamie Garcia also contributed along with a respectable year from Jake Westbrook. Joe Kelly picked up the slack and filled in when those five couldn’t go, allowing Chris Carpenter to rest up for the very late stretch run.
The bullpen was middle of the roadish, but they certainly didn’t cost them enough games to make it hurt.
Mike Matheny’s first season as a manager went well for the club, even if he does think bunting is compulsory.
It was a very strong year from one of baseball’s strongest franchises. The Cardinals locked up the newly minted 2nd Wild Card and carried that good fortune deep into October. They didn’t miss Pujols and managed without Carpenter.
With some exciting young arms coming to a Busch Stadium mound near you, it’s hard not to be bullish on the 2013 Cardinals while commending them on a fine 2012.
2012 Grade: A
Early 2013 Projection: 90-72
Tonight, Matt Cain and Kyle Lohse will face off in Game 7 of the NLCS. The winning team will host the Tigers on Wednesday in Game 1 of the World Series. That much, barring a rainout, we can be sure of.
But not much else. Baseball is a very unpredictable game. Great teams lose one-third of their games during the regular season and horrible teams win one-third of their games. This year, baseball’s best team lost 39.5% of their games and baseball’s worst team won 34%!
The old adage reminds us that “it’s what you do with the other 1/3 that counts.”
Yet in October, in a match-up of teams who finished the regular season within six games of each other, you can’t really play the long run percentages. Both teams are starting their best pitcher over the last six months. Both teams have won 3 of the last 6 meetings over the last eight days.
The best evidence you can cite if you’re making a prediction is that the Giants are at home and they are facing the Cardinals, who performed worse on the road this year. Other than that, this is a coin flip.
In the playoffs, it’s my view that every single game is a coin flip because all of the teams are roughly equivalent. Even most series are coin flips. You hope your pitchers execute and you pray the other guys’ don’t.
While that may be an oversimplification and you can definitely do things to maximize your chances of winning and minimize them (see Washington, Ron), mostly You Can’t Predict Baseball (@cantpredictball).
Whatever, let’s try anyway!
Why the Giants Will Win
Matt Cain is better than Kyle Lohse, even if it was pretty close in 2012. Plus, the Giants are at home and have won the last two games. Despite how odd this sounds as well, Bochy is probably a better skipper than Matheny and can run out a better army of relievers. The Cards may have a good offense, but AT&T Park is where offense goes to die (apologies to Safeco Field, you can’t even win this).
Why the Cardinals Will Win
Have you watched baseball in the last twelve months? The Cardinals always win elimination games and they do so in spectacular fashion. It’s practically the only thing we can really be sure of anymore.
I think the Cardinals edge this one out. Let’s say 4-2 with an 8th inning 3-run homerun from someone weird, like I don’t know, Skip Schumaker. That just feels right. Feels very Cardinals.
So sit back, DVR the debate, and enjoy sudden death, winner take all baseball. There are only 5 to 8 games left in 2012, and I’m not quite ready for it to be over. Except for Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. I’m ready for them to be over.