The Cardinals started well, winning 18 of their first 26 games to take a five-game division lead, their largest of the season.
They also finished well, winning their last five games and nine of their final 11 to finish five games off the pace in the National League Central.
What caused that ultimate 10-game swing is open to interpretation, but there were several sure factors.
When the Cardinals lost right-handers Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse on back-to-back days in late May -- Penny for the rest of the season and Lohse for three months -- they found they did not have the starting pitching coverage to replace them.
Right-hander Jake Westbrook pitched well after coming from
When they traded for
Westbrook, the Cardinals took the chance of weakening their offense by sending
solid run producer Ryan Ludwick to
As it turned out, that latter optimism was misguided. Freese suffered severe ligament damage in his right ankle in his first game on a minor league rehab assignment. He required season-ending surgery on that ankle, followed by surgery on his left ankle, which had been injured in a car accident nearly two years ago.
The Cardinals never did adequately replace Freese. Veteran infielder Felipe Lopez, playing a position rather foreign to him, neither hit well nor fielded well and subsequently was released after some tardiness issues.
Not only was Ludwick gone and Freese hurt, but center fielder Colby Rasmus subsequently suffered a calf injury, so the offense wound up playing three players short.
When the Cardinals headed
out Aug. 23 for a 10-game trip to face second-tier clubs
Next year the Cardinals must have one more power bat to go with Pujols, Holliday and Rasmus, who hit 23 homers. They also must add one starter -- or retain free agent Westbrook. And they must get better defense and punch from their infield.
NOTES AND QUOTES
LHP Trever Miller, who was worried about a forearm problem in mid-September, pitched very well after resting for a week. His contract for 2011 vested along the way, and Miller is almost certain to be back in the Cardinals bullpen for a third season. However, fellow veteran LHP Dennys Reyes, who had elbow problems at the end of the year, probably won't return.
1B Albert Pujols will be a focus this offseason, as the team figures to explore a contract extension. Pujols' option for 2011 will be picked up at $16 million, but he is looking for a considerable multiyear deal after that. General manager John Mozeliak cautioned, though, "We have a number of other issues that we need to get to first."
Manager Tony La Russa (if
he returns) is 126 wins away from passing John McGraw for second place on the
all-time list. In La Russa's first 15 seasons in
OF Nick Stavinoha didn't do all that well when he wasn't pinch-hitting. Stavinoha was 16-for-68 (.235) when not pinch-hitting. However, he was 15-for-53 (.283) as a pinch hitter, for that reason, he figures to be a candidate for a bench role next year even though he had a bad knee at the end of the season.
RHP Jason Motte, who may be a closer candidate next spring, finished the season with 10 scoreless outings, covering nine innings, after he recovered from a shoulder sprain. Motte fanned 54 hitters in 52 1/3 innings this season.
By the Numbers:
6 - Victories for closer Ryan Franklin, the fourth-leading winner on the staff.
Quote to Note:
"We only talk about life with Albert Pujols, never life without Albert Pujols."
- RHP Adam Wainwright, hopeful that the first baseman will sign a long-term contract extension.
The Cardinals entered the offseason with one of the best core groups in baseball: 1B Albert Pujols, LF Matt Holliday, RHPs Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and Gold Glove C Yadier Molina. But the supporting cast must be upgraded.
At the top of the Cardinals' wish list should be a contract extension for 1B Albert Pujols, but GM John Mozeliak said there were other priorities. Presumably, they are to get another starting pitcher (possibly by retaining RHP Jake Westbrook) and an infielder or two with pop and the ability to play at least adequate defense. The Cardinals also are looking for another power bat in the outfield, but that could be top prospect Allen Craig, who finished the season in the majors.
It is possible that none of them will be brought back, although Westbrook, impressive in two months with the Cardinals, is at the top of the list.
Ryan, coming off a .223 season, shouldn't command too much money, although he is a Gold Glove candidate. McClellan is one of the best middle relievers in the game.
2B Skip Schumaker could be part of a deal if the Cardinals don't consider him as a regular. He will make $2.7 million in 2011. One of the Cardinals' strengths is right-handed relief, where Mitchell Boggs, Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan are all young and relatively inexpensive. Any of them could go in the right deal.
3B David Freese (right ankle surgery in August 2010, left ankle surgery in September 2010) should be ready for spring training.
LHP Jaime Garcia (left arm fatigue), RHP Adam Wainwright (right forearm strain) and C Yadier Molina (right knee inflammation) all were shut down at the end of the season. All are expected to be ready for spring training.
RHP Brad Penny (strained upper back) went on the disabled list May 22, and he missed the remainder of the season.