Cards look to build off last October’s near-miss
One more win. After again hitting their stride in October, the
St. Louis Cardinals got tantalizingly close to making it back to
the World Series.
Instead, three straight losses to San Francisco led to an
agonizing offseason of what-ifs, and has served as a driving force
all spring for a team deemed good enough to contend without any
major roster upgrades.
Adam Wainwright, now the unquestioned ace of the rotation, won’t
be letting last fall’s failures go anytime soon. That the Giants
swept the Tigers after climbing out of a 3-1 NL championship series
hole against St. Louis made it even worse.
”You never know, but we didn’t give ourselves a chance, and
that just really bothers me,” Wainwright said. ”We had the team
to do it, we had the lead to do it.”
Heading in, whatever manager Mike Matheny’s club got out of the
postseason was a bonus. But once the Cardinals took advantage of
the brand new second wild card, surviving a tense one-game playoff
at Atlanta, forcing a Nationals meltdown and putting the Giants in
a series of must-wins, Wainwright doesn’t sugarcoat what happened
The Cardinals were outscored 20-1 the last three games, becoming
the 12th team to blow a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series. They
batted just .190 with 27 strikeouts while going 1 for 21 with
runners in scoring position. Chris Carpenter, Lance Lynn and Kyle
Lohse allowed 14 runs in 9 2-3 innings.
”We sort of choked, I don’t think it’s wrong to say that,”
Wainwright said. ”I think it’s true. We disappointed ourselves, we
disappointed our fans. We thought we had the team to win it all and
that’s why this year we’re coming in with a little bit extra
Wainwright already had plenty, winding up the spring schedule
with no agreement yet on a multiyear extension. He was 14-13 with a
3.94 ERA last season following reconstructive elbow surgery that
cost him all of 2011, and both he and the club anticipate a return
to the 2009-10 form in which he totaled 39 wins and twice contended
for the NL Cy Young award.
The lanky right-hander is one of the keys on a team that appears
to have a thin margin for error and is minus several big names.
Since finishing a distant nine games back of Cincinnati in the NL
Central, they’ve lost Carpenter – their long-time ace – perhaps for
good, All-Star shortstop Rafael Furcal to season-ending elbow
reconstruction and 16-game winner Kyle Lohse to Milwaukee in free
Setup man Mitchell Boggs opens the season as the closer with
Jason Motte, sidelined late in camp by a forearm injury. And
they’ve added no key pieces, with lefty reliever Randy Choate and
right-handed bench bat Ty Wigginton the lone pickups.
Plus, 2011 World Series MVP David Freese is starting the season
on the disabled list with a lower back strain.
”We didn’t really do much and I didn’t think we needed to,”
said utilityman Matt Carpenter, who added second base to his resume
after appearing at five positions last year. ”We had a great group
of guys that competed, we were one win away from a World Series and
we’re looking to bounce back this year.
”If we do what were capable of doing, I think we’ll be happy
with where we end up.”
Long term, the Cardinals appear to be in strong shape. The farm
system features 20-year-old outfielder Oscar Taveras and second
basemen Kolten Wong, both of whom appear close to contending for
jobs, in addition to a flock of power arms.
The prognosis for this year is clouded by the fact a lot of
those kids are getting plugged in now.
Shelby Miller beat out Joe Kelly as the young arms competed for
the fifth rotation spot, and Trevor Rosenthal nabbed a bullpen job
off a scintillating October in which he struck out 15 in just 8 2-3
Former first-round draft pick Pete Kozma, something of a
disappointment in the minors, earned the shortstop job. He entered
spring training as the third option behind Furcal, whose bid to
rehab a torn elbow ligament without an operation failed, and
veteran free agent pickup Ronny Cedeno, who was released.
Kozma, who batted .333 last September, figures to bat eighth in
one of the National League’s most potent offenses.
Matt Holliday is a perennial .300 average-100 RBI man, Allen
Craig nearly had 100 RBIs in just over two-thirds of a season and
37-year-old Carlos Beltran just missed that milestone after a
second-half fade that reinforces the notion he’ll need plenty of
Yadier Molina is the NL’s top defensive catcher and perhaps its
best at the plate, too, after reaching career bests with 22 homers
and 76 RBIs and a .315 average last year. Freese, the third
baseman, is a 20-homer guy batting seventh.
”We’re all very excited about what this group can do,” second
baseman Daniel Descalso said. ”We’re definitely going to miss some
of the faces that are gone and I think some guys are going to have
to step up, but we saw some guys step up last year and I expect the
same thing this year.”