By Ryan Witt
Now that the St. Louis Cardinals have been eliminated from playoffs, the team and the fans can begin to look back at the whole of the 2012 season. It would be easy to focus only the collapse that led to the NLCS loss, but in reality the 2012 season was filled with highs, lows, and a lot of in between like every season. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of the Cardinals 2012 season.
The Cardinals came one game away from the World Series despite losing Chris Carpenter and Lance Berkman to injury for most of the year. Other big contributors like Rafael Furcal and Jaime Garcia also spent extended time on the disabled list.
Despite these huge losses, the Cardinals still scored the second most runs in the National League behind only the Brewers, who hit in a much more hitter-friendly ballpark than the Cardinals. The team had the second biggest run differential (+117) in the National League behind only the Nationals. The Cardinals had the best on-base-percentage (.338) in all of the Majors, including American League teams who have the advantage of the designated hitter. Cardinal starting pitchers had a 3.62 ERA, which ranked fourth in the Majors. The numbers do not lie. Overall, the Cardinals hitters performed well throughout the season and the starters did better than anyone could have expected.
The Cardinals won the World Series last year, and were one game away from returning to the big show this year. Over the last decade the Cardinals are arguably the most successful baseball franchise in the Major Leagues with 41 postseason wins. There are 27 other teams in MLB baseball, including big spending teams like the Yankees and Angels, who would have loved to have made it to game seven of a league championship series. These facts are worth keeping in mind before Cardinals’ fans get too down on their team.
Despite the impressive statistics cited above, the Cardinals managed only 88 wins in the regular season, which was barely good enough to garner the final playoff spot If not for a change in the playoff rules this year the Cardinals would not have been playing in the postseason at all.
The main culprit of the Cardinals’ struggles was an inability to win close games. In late August the Cardinals had 13-21 record in one-run games. Cardinals fans would often pull their hair out in frustration at the inability to get down a key bunt, or hit a sacrifice fly to get one more run home to many games during the season. As good as they were at getting on base and blowing out many teams, the Cardinals’ hitters often could not do the little things that made a difference in the close games.
While the starters performed very well throughout the entire season, they clearly ran out of gas toward the end. Lance Lynn looked nothing like the All-Star he was from late July through mid-October. Adam Wainwright’s season could be described as inconsistent. In one start Wainwright would look like he had found his Cy Young contending self, only to lose his command and give up four runs in the next start. Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook went down with injuries. The age and lack of durability of Cardinals starters caught up with them in the end.
The Cardinals’ defense struggled throughout the season. The team ended the regular season with an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of -20.4, which ranked eighth worst in the Majors. The bad defense was really highlighted in the NLCS, where the Cardinals yielded 10 unearned runs in just seven games. Cardinal starting pitchers are known for their pitch-to-contact philosophy, which only works if defenders field the ball well behind them.
The Cardinals’ bullpen improved in the second half of the season, but many leads were blown by Jason Motte and others before through the year. The bullpen blew 22 saves in 2012, seventh most in the Major Leagues.
Finally, the truly ugly part of the season was best illustrated in the final three games. With what was perhaps the most talented lineup in the National League, the Cardinals managed only one run in their final three games. The offense was feast or famine all year, scoring 20 or more runs in three games only to follow with three more games where they fail to score six runs total. Cardinal hitters often failed to adapt to a good game plan from opposing pitchers. The team lacked speed, and therefore often struggled to score any runs without a home run. Instead of always scoring either eight runs or zero runs, the 2013 Cardinals must find way to score four runs in a game where everything is not clicking.
Ryan Witt is a freelance writer covering all things St. Louis Cardinals. His work can be found on Examiner.com.