2012 Cardinals Post-Season Review and Outlook

Winner of the new second wild card, the St. Louis Cardinals advanced to the seventh game of the NLCS before bowing out. Third of three articles summarizing the 2012 season.

In summary

Looking to repeat as Major League Baseball's champions, the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals clinched the new second wild card berth after Game 161 of the regular season, winning a total of 88 and losing 74. They moved on to face the other wild card club, Atlanta, in a winner-take-all game.

After winning the one-game wild card competition in Atlanta, the Cardinals dispatched the team with the best record in the NL, the Washington Nationals, in the division series, three games to two, fueled by an exciting comeback from six runs down in the final contest.

The Cardinals sprinted out to a 3-1 lead over San Francisco in the championship series, only to lose pivotal Game 5 at home. Returning to San Francisco, the Cardinals scored just one run in their final two lopsided losses to end the season.

October – Wild Card game

As the second wild card winner, St. Louis traveled to Atlanta for the one-game, winner-take-all battle. It appeared to be a major challenge as Kyle Lohse faced the National League's Pitcher of the Month for both August and September, Kris Medlen.

The Cardinals were up to the task. In the 6-3 St. Louis win, Matt Holliday homered and Atlanta made three throwing errors - the most crucial of them by Chipper Jones in his final game. The contest was protested to no avail by the Braves after an eighth-inning fly ball that dropped in short left field was ruled an out via the infield fly rule. The game had to be stopped for 19 minutes as Atlanta fans pelted the field with debris.

Kyle Lohse earned the win, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings. Jason Motte picked up the save by getting the final four outs, taking over after the delay.

October - NLDS

Due to the compressed schedule caused by the addition of the wild card game, the best-of-five National League Division Series had a one-time change in format. The lower-seeded team hosted the first two games, with the final three at the home of the higher-seeded club.

Busch Stadium was the site of the opener between the Cardinals and the East Division champion Washington Nationals, the team with MLB's best regular season record, with 98 wins. The Cardinals led 2-1 before Pete Kozma's eighth-inning error lead to a pair of unearned runs in Washington's 3-2 win. Adam Wainwright struck out 10 in 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision.

Carlos Beltran hit the last two of the Cardinals' four home runs as ineffective Jordan Zimmermann took the loss in Game 2. The 12-4 rout of the Nationals tied the series at one game apiece. Allen Craig and Daniel Descalso also went deep. Jaime Garcia exited after two innings and was deactivated the next day due to a shoulder injury.

Chris Carpenter pitched scoreless ball into the sixth inning and Pete Kozma delivered a three-run home run as the Cardinals beat the Nationals 8-0 in Game 3, the first of three games in Washington.

Jayson Werth led off the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 by blasting Lance Lynn's 13th pitch into the left-field stands. The Nationals' 2-1 walkoff victory sent the NLDS into the deciding Game 5. Kyle Lohse pitched masterfully, allowing the home club just one run on two hits over seven innings.

Down six runs early in Game 5, the Cardinals looked to be down and out. They weren't, as they inched their way back to an amazing 9-7 win to cap off the series. Daniel Descalso's game-tying two-out, two-run single and the go-ahead two-run single from Pete Kozma both came in the ninth inning after the Cardinals were twice down to their last strike. It was the largest comeback ever in a winner-take-all postseason game. Carlos Beltran was on base five times, going 3-for-3 with two walks.

NLDS leaders

Middle infielders Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma were unlikely offensive heroes in the LDS. Descalso, a .227 hitter during the regular season, topped the Cardinals with seven runs scored and six RBI and tied for the home run lead with two. He posted a slash line of .316/.333/.684/1.017 in the five-game series. In recognition, we named Descalso the winner of our version of the mythical NLDS Most Valuable Player Award.

Kozma had an OBP of .455 and added five RBI, second-most after Descalso. Carlos Beltran batted .444 with a .542 OBP and .944 SLG in the LDS, all tops on the team.

The pitching staff cumulatively held the Nats to a .232 batting average while posting a 2.86 ERA. Kyle Lohse allowed one run in seven innings, Chris Carpenter none in 5 2/3 and hard-throwing relievers Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal combined to allow just two baserunners in seven scoreless innings of work.

The Cards entered the LDS as less than full strength, with two starting position players and eventually a second rotation member out. In fact, Lance Berkman, Rafael Furcal and Jake Westbrook sat out both series in their entirety. Jaime Garcia joined them after his NLDS Game 2 injury. The left-hander was replaced on the roster the rest of the way by Shelby Miller, with Lance Lynn taking his rotation spot, joining Carpenter, Lohse and Wainwright.

October - NLCS

The Cards advanced into the League Championship Series against NL West champion San Francisco. In their LDS match up against Cincinnati, manager Bruce Bochy's club had come back from a 2-0 deficit to dispatch the NL Central-winning club.

LCS Games 1 and 2 were in San Francisco. The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead thanks to two-run home runs from David Freese and Carlos Beltran, as well as 5 1/3 scoreless innings from the bullpen. Jason Motte closed out the 6-4 win to earn his second save of the postseason.

The Giants defeated the Cardinals 7-1 in Game 2 as Ryan Vogelsong allowed just one run in seven innings. Chris Carpenter took the loss, though all four of his fourth-inning runs were unearned following errors by Carpenter and Matt Holliday.

The Cardinals returned home to take Games 3 and 4 and set up a possible elimination Game 5, also in St. Louis.

The big blow in the Cardinals' 3-1 Game 3 win came in the third inning when Matt Carpenter, brought into the game in the second inning to replace injured Carlos Beltran (left knee strain), blasted a two-run home run off Giants starter Matt Cain. Kyle Lohse allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings to earn the victory. Motte tossed two scoreless innings for his third save of the postseason.

The Cardinals handled the Giants by an 8-3 score in Game 4. Adam Wainwright allowed just one run in seven innings to earn the win. Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Yadier Molina each had two RBI.

With Garcia unavailable, Lynn was given the ball for the all-important Game 5, the final game at Busch Stadium. The right-hander could not get out of the fourth inning, in part due to his own throwing error. The Giants went on to shut out the Cardinals 5-0 on just six hits. Soft-tossing veteran Barry Zito pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings for the win.

Returning to San Francisco, the Giants embarrassed the Cardinals in winning Games 6 and 7 by a combined score of 15-1.

In Game 6, Ryan Vogelsong tossed seven innings of one-run ball with a career-high nine strikeouts to earn his second win of the series. Allen Craig drove in the Cardinals only run with a two-out RBI single in the sixth, which scored Carlos Beltran after he doubled. It was the Cardinals only extra-base hit in the Giants' 6-1 victory. Chris Carpenter took the loss.

Bochy and the spoils
The Cards were spanked 9-0 in Game 7, which ended with the Giants celebrating in a downpour. The Cards' most dependable pitcher all year, Kyle Lohse, just didn't have it, allowing five runs in just two innings. Yadier Molina had four hits, with the rest of his teammates combined managing just three. Matt Cain earned the win for San Francisco with 5 2/3 innings of scoreless ball.

NLCS leaders

Molina hit .393 (11-for-28) in the LCS with one double, two RBI and two runs scored. Carlos Beltran had four extra-base hits among his six while batting .300. In limited duty, Matt Carpenter went 3-for-9 (.333), including a double, home run and two RBI.

Despite batting just .207, Jon Jay's modest total of three RBI led the club. As a team, the Cardinals batted just .217 in the seven games.

In the LCS, the Cardinals run producers didn't produce. Cleanup hitter Allen Craig had a dismal series, with just three hits in 24 at-bats (.125). Matt Holliday struggled with back soreness that kept him out of Game 6. The number three hitter batted just .200, with five singles in 25 at-bats. 2011 hero David Freese had a .192 LCS average.

The magic ran out on LDS standouts Descalso (.200) and Kozma (.237), as well, with the latter exposed defensively. The shortstop committed two errors and made several other key miscues.

Relievers Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica were the only unscored-upon Cardinals pitchers, combining for 9 1/3 frames of zeroes. Adam Wainwright allowed just one run in seven innings.

Overall, the staff ERA was 3.75, but in the final three losses, the combined ERA of starters Lynn, Carpenter and Lohse was over eight. Further, the record-setting 10 unearned runs were key in the Game 2, 5 and 6 losses, two of which were absorbed by 2011 post-season ace Chris Carpenter.

What went wrong?

Through four games of the NLCS, St. Louis held a commanding three-games-to-one lead. With Game 5 scheduled at home, the Cardinals had the clear edge. However, the pitching, hitting and defense together failed them at the worst possible time.

Games 5-6-7 starting pitchers Lance Lynn, Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse combined for an ERA of 8.21. The offense scored just one run over their last 28 innings, the longest such dry stretch in team post-season history. The defense contributed to an NLCS-record 10 unearned runs allowed, pivotal in the Games 2, 5 and 6 losses.

It was the fourth time in team history the Cardinals dropped a post-season series after leading three games to one. Others were the 1968 World Series, 1985 World Series and 1996 NLCS.

Looking ahead

Heading into the off-season, the team's biggest free agent is their most effective pitcher over the full 2012 campaign, Kyle Lohse. With the re-signing of Westbrook earlier, it appears Lohse will sign elsewhere for 2013.

In addition to Lohse, just one other prominent Cardinal has the right to seek free agency this off-season - Lance Berkman. Neither is expected back, with Lohse in line to receive a large multi-year deal on the open market and Berkman contemplating retirement. Reliever Brian Fuentes, who ended the year on the restricted list, is also a free agent.

The Cardinals will need to decide whether or not to push for a contract extension with Adam Wainwright, one year away from free agency. Otherwise, 2013 could be the last season with St. Louis for both Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.

A group of young contributors are in line for raises – some potentially significant – via arbitration. They include David Freese, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Edward Mujica, Marc Rzepczynski and Kyle McClellan. The latter is at risk of being non-tendered due to a combination of his increasing salary and the availability of other bullpen options.

Four prominent Cardinals with various injuries currently at different stages of recovery may hold the key to 2013. Jaime Garcia (shoulder), Rafael Furcal (elbow), Matt Holliday (back) and Carlos Beltran (knees) all missed time in 2012 but are needed at full strength next season. Of these players, only Garcia is under 30 years of age, increasing the risk factor.

Young Cardinals positioned to compete for expanded roles in 2013 include Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Matt Adams, with top prospects Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong on the horizon.

In conclusion

All-in-all, the 2012 Cardinals overcame the early loss of Carpenter and turned what looked like would be a disappointing season into an exciting race for the second wild card. Matheny's first club took its playoff berth all the way to the seventh game of the Championship Series before falling.

With better health, improvement in the middle infield, left-handed relief, right-handed hitting off the bench as well as a steady Carpenter and Wainwright at the top of the rotation mentoring the young and exciting arms, there is no reason to believe the Cardinals cannot again be a serious title contender in 2013.

Previous articles in this series

Click here for Part 1 of this article, which recaps the 2012 Cardinals results from spring training through the regular season finale.

Part 2 drilled down into 2012 Cardinals players individual stats and team marks during the regular season.

This concludes our 37-part article series on the 2012 season and top performers at every level of the St. Louis Cardinals system. Click on the link to review articles about previous award winners across the system club by club as well as 2012 team recaps, much of it exclusively for The Cardinal Nation subscribers.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his content at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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