The St. Louis Cardinals reported to 2013 spring training camp with considerably fewer changes than the year before. Manager Mike Matheny, back for a second season, welcomed most of the same players who took the club to within one win of making a return to the World Series.
While there were changes, there was nothing of the magnitude of the losses of Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Albert Pujols from the previous winter. This time, hitting coach Mark McGwire and second baseman-outfielder Skip Schumaker went to the Dodgers, reliever Kyle McClellan was released and first baseman Lance Berkman and rotation stalwart Kyle Lohse departed as free agents.
The Cardinals made a strong play for then-free agent infielder Marco Scutaro, but instead settled for former Cub and Pirate Ronny Cedeno, who was released during spring training. Veteran Ty Wigginton was signed to a two-year deal to provide a late-game right-handed bat off the bench, but did not make it to the All-Star break. The left side of the bullpen was strengthened with the addition of veteran Randy Choate, given a three-year commitment.
The Cardinals lost two of three in Arizona to open the season, but moved into first place by the second week of play. The club remained in first place until late June, never opening a lead of more than four games. After a week, the Cards were back on top, where they remained for most of July.
A disastrous seven-game losing skid in Atlanta and Pittsburgh to close July put Pittsburgh on top. With a loss to the Dodgers on August 8, the Cards hit their low point of four games out of first. On September 7, St. Louis moved back into first for the final time, winning the division by three games. Their 97-65 record represented nine more wins than in 2012 and six more than the 2011 World Champions.
St. Louis clinched the division following Game 161 and secured home field advantage over Atlanta on the final day of the season as Matheny led his second club into the post-season in two years.
After having lost 9 of 19 games against their NL Central rivals from Pittsburgh during the regular season, the Cardinals faced the Bucs again in the Division Series. The Pirates had defeated the other Wild Card, the Cincinnati Reds, in the one-game play-in.
The Cards topped the Bucs in the hard-fought division series, three games to two. The Cardinals sprinted out to a 3-1 lead over Los Angeles in the championship series, only to lose Game 5. Returning to St. Louis, the Cardinals whitewashed the Dodgers, 9-0 to move into their second World Series in three years and fourth in the last decade.
In an entertaining, but sloppily played World Series, the Cardinals went home for Games 3-5 with the advantage, but lost 2 of 3 at home before dropping Game 6 and the Series back in Boston.
Check back soon for Part 2 of this article, which will dig into the stats behind the 2013 Cardinals regular season performances. Part 3 will cover the Cardinals post-season and include a look ahead to 2014.
Spring training injuries
For the third consecutive year, the club lost an ace as spring camp opened. For the second straight year, the victim was Chris Carpenter. This time, the veteran right-hander's career was deemed to be likely over due to continued nerve-related weakness and swelling in his neck, shoulder, arm and hand.
In 2011, the right elbow of Adam Wainwright gave out, leading to him missing the entire season. Now, with Wainwright's contract situation becoming front and center, the 30-year-old was asked to lead the 2013 staff as well.
Two other veterans reported to camp with injury concerns hanging over their heads. Left-hander Jaime Garcia missed 2 ½ months and most of the 2012 playoffs with shoulder problems while shortstop Rafael Furcal played his last game in August with a sore elbow. Over the winter, both players tried the rehab route instead of surgery. Neither worked, though Garcia bought himself more time.
In spring, the two took very different paths. Garcia pitched well from the start, which Furcal went under the knife in March with Tommy John surgery after being unable to throw. Ronny Cedeno was released on March 19, with the organization satisfied that Matt Carpenter could handle second and Daniel Descalso could back up new starter Pete Kozma at short.
What may have been the biggest injury was suffered by Jason Motte during camp. The closer began the season on the disabled list, hoping rest would help him avoid season-ending Tommy John surgery. Again, the time off would prove to only delay the inevitable. Motte joined Carpenter and Furcal in missing the entire season.
David Freese also opened the season on the disabled list due to a back injury. While the third baseman returned a week into the season, he struggled for the first two months at the plate and seemed sluggish at times defensively as well.
|Adams again made his mark in September|
Spring training results
On the field, the club played ok in Florida, winning 16, losing 15 and tying one. It was the club's ninth winning spring in the last 10 years. The only exception was 2006, and that season ended up well.
Among those fighting for jobs who earned their way onto the roster were "Grapefruit League MVP" Shane Robinson (second in the NL in runs, batting average, OBP and SLG) and Matt Adams (tied for third in the NL with 17 RBI).
Youngsters Oscar Taveras and Michael Wacha impressed. Neither was ready for the bigs yet, nor were there roster spots for them. Shelby Miller edged out Joe Kelly for the fifth rotation spot after Trevor Rosenthal was eliminated early and assigned to the pen.
For the second consecutive spring, the staff had the NL-best ERA, this time at 4.20. The offense was in the middle of the pack, batting .280.
|Lance Lynn started hot|
For the sixth consecutive year, the Cardinals ended April in first place, this time with a 15-11 record that put them just ahead of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. After a .500 West Coast road trip to open the schedule, the Cards won two of three at home against both the Reds and Brewers. The highlight of the month was a sweep in Washington, holders of the NL's best record in 2012.
The team's ERA of 3.11 led the NL, but it was a tale of two staffs. The starters logged a 2.15 ERA, the best full-month for the Cardinals rotation since Bob Gibson's heyday of May 1968. Lance Lynn won his MLB-best fifth game on May 1, extending his personal winning streak to 10 games.
On the other side of the coin, the relievers limped through the month with a 5.67 ERA, a record of 0-5 and six blown saves in 13 opportunities. Fill-in closer Mitchell Boggs struggled mightily and was replaced by Edward Mujica, who stabilized the ninth inning late in the month.
The offense was opportunistic, ranking first in the league with a .327 average with runners in scoring position and .350 in that situation with two outs. Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig were all in the top 10 in the league with RISP.
After a blazing start to the season, during which he batted .542 with three home runs and a 1.042 slugging percentage in eight games, Adams was placed on the DL. His right oblique strain sidelined him starting on April 21. Jermaine Curtis made his MLB debut to replace Adams.
Like Curtis, Seth Maness was added to the 40-man roster and was promoted to St. Louis. The control specialist replaced lefty Marc Rzepczynski, sent down to Memphis.
|Wacha first arrived in May|
Looking back, it seems amazing that the Cardinals could continue to play such exceptional baseball with the amount of roster turmoil on the pitching side. As the injuries piled up, the organization's vaunted pitching pipeline was tapped heavily and came through nicely.
The team began the month with a six-game winning streak that included two victories against Cincinnati and a four-game sweep in Milwaukee. Later in May, the Cards went 4-2 on a West Coast swing and did not lose a series during the month.
St. Louis forged a 20-7 mark during the period, but the Reds played almost as well. A two-game gap separated the two clubs heading into June.
Struggling mightily in relief with an ERA of 12.66, Mitchell Boggs was optioned to Memphis on May 3. After six Triple-A outings, he was back with St. Louis on the 18th. More bad results ensued with Boggs shipped out again on the 31st.
Highly-touted Carlos Martinez was promoted from Memphis to replace Boggs. The hard-thrower spent 3 ½ weeks in St. Louis' pen before being returned to Triple-A to stretch back out as a starter.
After a tremendous start to 2013, veteran starter Jake Westbrook suffered an elbow injury and hit the DL on the 12th. Just when it seemed that Tommy John surgery might be needed, the right-hander's condition improved. By the end of the month, he was pitching in the minor leagues to build back his pitch count.
Lefty John Gast was promoted from Memphis to take Westbrook's rotation spot and picked up wins in his first two starts.
With expectations lower than with some of the other more heralded starters, Tyler Lyons was also pushed from Memphis into the rotation to replace Garcia. The latter's shoulder finally required season-ending surgery. Garcia ended his season 5-2, 3.58 in nine starts. Lyons went at least seven innings in his first two outings, allowing just one run in total.
The month concluded with much fanfare as 2012 first-round pick Michael Wacha made his MLB debut on the 30th. It was the fastest draft-to-MLB progression for a Cardinal since 1988. Wacha became the ninth rookie to make his debut for the 2013 club. Unfortunately, the need was presented when Gast went onto the DL after coming out of his third start with a shoulder injury.
There was a bit of positive injury news as Chris Carpenter began to throw again with the goal of returning to the mound during the summer. It would be a long road back but the possibility offered some hope for a beleaguered staff.
The Cardinals run differential remained among the top in the league, indicating that the pitching and hitting were both performing well.
Molina seamlessly handled all the young arms from behind the plate while batting a cool .394 during May. In the process, the catcher moved to the top of the National League batting race.
An unsung performer was second baseman Matt Carpenter. Moved into the leadoff spot as Jon Jay slumped, Carpenter forged a .447 on-base percentage during May, scored 21 runs in 26 games and played dependably in the field.
Amidst all the pitching churn, Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller continued to make solid starts and rack up wins, totaling 20 victories through May. Closer Edward Mujica saved his first 17 opportunities of the season to that point and Trevor Rosenthal excelled in Boggs' old set-up role.
|Mujica saved 37 of 41|
A year after the Cards went 13-14 in June, they played .500 ball in 2013, going 14-14. That cost them a four-game swing in the standings, going from two up to two down.
The American League West was the opponent during the final three series of June and the first in July. The Cardinals stumbled badly, going just 3-8 against Texas, Houston, Oakland and the Angels.
David Freese shook off two sluggish months to forge a career-best 17-game hitting streak, raising his batting average 31 points – from .246 to .277. Still, the third baseman was not out of the woods, entering July with modest totals of five home runs and 27 RBI for the first three months.
After a quick-fused young umpire ejected him for throwing his helmet on June 2, Molina received and ultimately served a one-game suspension for bumping one of the arbiters during the ensuing argument.
While other starters slowed down, Adam Wainwright continued to excel, being named the National League Pitcher of the Month for June. The right-hander posted a 4-2 record, leading the Majors with 45 2/3 innings pitched and tying for the NL lead in wins. Wainwright allowed just nine earned runs in his six outings, posting a 1.77 ERA.
After a pair of strong initial outings in the rotation, Tyler Lyons struggled and was returned to Memphis. The lefty was replaced in the starting five by Joe Kelly, in from the bullpen.
Jake Westbrook, out since May 9 with a sore elbow, was activated on June 14. After having made three starts for St. Louis, Michael Wacha was returned to Memphis. Their fortunes would cross again in September.
Six Cardinals all-stars
July was a month for optimists and pessimists alike. The positive spins include the fact that the club went 13-12 and unlike the year before, when the Cards exited July seven games behind the Reds, this time they were just 2 ½ out of first.
The Cards' catcher continued to lead the National League in batting and along with Carlos Beltran was voted into the starting lineup for the All-Star Game. Other Cardinals selected to the team were Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig, Edward Mujica and Adam Wainwright.
The negatives include Molina's knee injury, Chris Carpenter's aborted comeback, and most of all, an ugly seven-game road losing streak to end the month, during which time the offense scored just 10 runs in total. That skid was at the hands of NL East-leading Atlanta and the new Central Division leader, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Molina's situation was especially troubling. The team's leader in batting and OPS began to experience knee soreness early in the month. The Cardinals added a third catcher in Rob Johnson, specifically to give Molina rest which he did not get. Still behind the plate for the vast majority of the innings, Molina finally went on the disabled list on the final day of the month.
Chris Carpenter attempted a pair of rehab games at Springfield and Memphis in mid-month. After middling results, the 38-year-old admitted the tingling and numbness had returned to his hand. Other Cards to miss time in July included Matt Holliday and Shane Robinson. Obvious replacement Oscar Taveras continued to be sidelined with a lingering high ankle strain that first appeared in May, and therefore, remained unavailable.
July 9 was an eventful day as the club cut bait with disappointing free agent signee Ty Wigginton despite having given the infielder a two-year contract prior to the season. In a discouraging and surprising fall from his 2012 success, Mitchell Boggs was shipped off to Colorado that same day. The Cards gave up on getting the set-up man right and received only $200,000 in international bonus slot money in return. In that same vein, lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski was dealt to Cleveland for a low-level minor leaguer.
Promoted from Double-A on June 6, Kevin Siegrist solidified the left side of the pen, helping to make Scrabble redundant. Siegrist went a dozen outings before allowing his first MLB earned run on July 12.
While the Cardinals were rumored to be looking for shortstop help as well as a reliever and perhaps even a starter, the July 31 non-waiver deadline came and passed with no major deals. St. Louis was not alone in its struggles. Across MLB, trades were few and far between, with buyers reportedly far more prevalent than sellers, keeping prices high.
Coming off the dreadful seven-game losing streak to close July, the offense instantly came to life to open August, scoring 41 runs in taking three of the first four. The first contest concluded the series in Pittsburgh while the others were in Cincinnati.
Yet, the offensive woes immediately returned. The Cards scored a total of just two runs in three losses in four at home to the NL West-leading Dodgers. The club did finish the rough 4-6 homestand by taking two extra-inning wins over the first-place Pirates.
Molina came off the disabled list on the final game of that homestand, as Tony Cruz went the other way due to a stress fracture in his arm. The club went 4-6 while Molina was out.
With top prospect Oscar Taveras requiring ankle surgery and the offense needing a spark, the Cardinals called on their other top hitting prospect, Kolten Wong. The second baseman was promoted from Memphis on August 16. Wong's arrival initially pushed David Freese into a semi-platoon, with Matt Carpenter floating between second and third daily.
At the waiver deadline close, the Cardinals added former Milwaukee closer John Axford in a trade for rookie Michael Blazek.
To close out the month, the Cardinals played the first nine of a 17-game stretch against playoff-bound clubs – Atlanta, then Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in home and away series. St. Louis took five of seven at home against the Braves and Reds before losing the first two in Pittsburgh, knocking them out of the divisional lead.
Though the Pirates did not fade away in August as in the prior two seasons, the Cards gained a game and a half in the standings during August. The Cards ended the month one game back, on the heels of a 16-13 record. The club spent just six days in first place during the month, from the 24th through the 29th.
With Cincinnati just behind St. Louis, the final month was set up to be a showdown as to which team would win the division, with the other two to battle as the wild cards.
|Craig missed the final month|
To open September, the Cardinals closed the crucial eight games of the 17 with contenders by going 5-3. The disappointment of losing three of four at Cincinnati was eased by a three-game home sweep of the Pirates in their final head-to-head meeting of the regular season on the 6th through 8th. The final two wins pushed the Cards back into first place, which they held for the remainder of the way.
The lone win in the Queen City was long and costly, however. Though Matt Adams hit a team-record two extra-inning home runs to lead the Cards to a 16-inning win on the 4th, the big first baseman was only in the game due to a sprained foot suffered by Allen Craig. The team leader in RBI with 97 at the time remained out for the entire remainder of the regular season due to a Lisfranc injury.
Adams stepped in admirably, however, with eight home runs and 15 RBI during September, eventually even sliding into Craig's vacated clean-up spot in the batting order. Adams' line during the month was .315/.344/.609/.952. Matt Holliday also stepped up his game during the final month surge, batting .378 and driving in 23 runs.
Final-month roster additions included seven minor leaguers plus the activation of Tony Cruz from the disabled list. The reinforcements were pitchers Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Tyler Lyons, catcher Audry Perez, infielders Ryan Jackson and Brock Peterson and outfielder Adron Chambers. Also, Fernando Salas and Sam Freeman had been added in late August. 40-man roster addition Perez became the club's 20th rookie to take the field in 2013. The others had previously been with the big-league club.
In the season's final six series - from September 10 through the end of the regular season on September 29 - the Cardinals faced no teams in playoff contention and only one with a winning record. Though the club's last sweep was over the Pirates on the 6th through 8th, the Cards also did not lose a September series after dropping the one at the start of the month in Cincinnati.
With first-half star Jake Westbrook struggling mightily after the break, the veteran was moved into the pen after a brief disabled list stint ended on the 6th and rarely pitched before given the final-day start as a send-off.
Wacha was inserted into the rotation on September 3rd and excelled. On the 24th, with the Cardinals still chasing the division title, the rookie threw a no-hitter at the Washington Nationals before an infield hit with two outs in the ninth.
Another veteran hurler ran into major troubles in the final month – Edward Mujica. Whether due to injury, overwork or something else, "Chief" was removed from the closer's job on the 21st. The right-hander had allowed runs in five of his eight September outings while coughing up at least three late-inning leads. His results did not appreciably improve afterward, either.
With consecutive saves on September 23 and 24, Rosenthal seemed to take over the closer's job, though he was not officially anointed with the title.
All during September, the Cardinals battled with the Reds and Pirates for the division and the two wild cards, but St. Louis finished the 19-8 month strongly. The Cards swept the Nationals and Cubs at home, finishing three games ahead of Pittsburgh and seven up on the Reds.
The Cardinals' overall record was 97-65, a nine-win improvement from 2012 and tying them with Boston for the best mark in all of MLB. With it came home field advantage in the post-season.
Upcoming articles in this series
In Part 2 of this article, we will drill down into 2013 Cardinals players' individual stats and team marks during the regular season.
Part 3 will recap the Cardinals post-season results, along with a 2014 outlook.
Previous articles in this series
Link to master article with links to all articles about previous award winners across the system club by club as well as 2013 team recaps, much of it exclusively for The Cardinal Nation subscribers.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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