This is the first installment of our annual three-part series, recapping 2014 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Part 1 begins with a quick summary, before we go into significant detail on off-season moves, spring training and the regular season, month by month.
Spring Training Injuries
Spring Training Results
Check back soon for Part 2 of this article, which will dig into the stats behind the 2014 Cardinals regular season performances. Part 3 will cover the Cardinals post-season and include a look ahead to 2015.
The Cardinals reported to 2014 spring training camp with high expectations – both placed on them by others and by themselves. With the vast majority of the same players that competed in the previous World Series, including a major infusion of young talent during 2013, the club was viewed by many as one of the favorites along with the Dodgers to win it all.
By game 10 of the 162-game regular-season schedule, it had become clear that the challenge would be considerable. The Cardinals were just 5-5 while Milwaukee blitzed their early opposition, quickly taking a three-game division lead. The Brewers held serve for five months until St. Louis finally assumed first place for good in September, then holding off a late charge by Pittsburgh.
Pitching carried the way in 2014. Offensive frustrations, indicated by a meager plus-16 run differential for the season, down over 100 from 2013, made the six-month journey seem more arduous than usual for the Cards. Their 90-72 record represented seven fewer wins than in 2013.
St. Louis secured a playoff spot on September 21, as Matheny led his third club into the post-season in three years, including two straight division titles. However, it took another full week, until the final day of the season, before the division was clinched.
After having lost four of seven games against the NL West champs from Los Angeles during the regular season, the Cardinals faced the Dodgers again, this time in the Division Series. The Giants defeated the other Wild Card, the Pirates, in the one-game play-in, then East Division-winner Washington.
The Cards topped the Dodgers in the hard-fought Division Series, three games to one. Picking up home field advantage in the process did not benefit the Cardinals, however. In the Championship Series, their fourth in a row, St. Louis managed only a walkoff win in Game 2 before dropping Games 3, 4, and 5 in San Francisco, ending their season.
Manager Mike Matheny, back for his third season, welcomed several important newcomers to spring training camp in February. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta was signed as free agent for four years, $53 million. David Freese and Fernando Salas were sent to the Angels for centerfielder Peter Bourjos and minor leaguer Randal Grichuk. That triggered a move of Matt Carpenter from second base to third, with rookie Kolten Wong penciled in at second. Veteran Mark Ellis was signed as a free agent to back Wong up. On the pitching side, the only addition was veteran reliever Pat Neshek, signed to a minor league deal.
The pitching staff lost two hurlers to retirement, Chris Carpenter and Jake Westbrook. The team leader in home runs in 2012-13, outfielder Carlos Beltran, joined the Yankees as a free agent. Relievers Edward Mujica and John Axford moved to Boston and Cleveland, respectively. After missing the entire 2013 season, shortstop Rafael Furcal became a Miami Marlin. All were free agents.
There was only one change in the coaching staff. Assistant hitting coach Bengie Molina moved to Texas to become first base coach. He was replaced by former Cardinals second baseman David Bell.
Spring training injuries
For the second consecutive year, Garcia reported to camp with injury concerns, though hopes were higher in 2014 following his shoulder surgery the prior summer. Motte had yet to throw off a mound as camp opened due to his May 2013 Tommy John surgery. The two opened the season on the 15-day disabled list, rather than the 60-day.
Top prospect Oscar Taveras underwent ankle surgery in August 2013 and was only cleared to run as camp got underway. He then suffered a hamstring injury and was shuffled off to minor league camp. Moved to the outfield, Allen Craig said he had no lingering effects from the Lisfranc injury that hobbled him all fall of 2013. His later results would suggest otherwise.
Newcomer Bourjos was given full clearance after his surgically-repaired wrist checked out ok. Another newcomer, Ellis, missed a considerable number of spring games due to a knee injury. In one of the final spring games, the second baseman reinjured it and opened the season on the DL, creating a roster spot for Pete Kozma.
Overall, the club exited spring in reasonable shape injury-wise.
Spring training results
On the field, the club fared well in Florida, except for when they took on the Marlins. St. Louis lost all six games against Miami, otherwise winning 11, losing seven and tying two. It was the club’s second losing spring in the last 11 years. The other was 2006, and that season ended up just fine.
The biggest competition in camp was for the fifth starter spot between Carlos Martinez and Joe Kelly. The latter had to pitch his way out of the job and did not. With a five-inning no-hit beginning to his final spring game, Kelly was named the winner - despite Martinez having a better spring overall. The latter was returned to the pen.
Wainwright, Wacha and Martinez had ERAs under 2.00 as starters and Lynn led the NL in spring strikeouts with 27, including one game with 10.
While the six starters were very good, the middle of the bullpen struggled. Perhaps the most worrisome was Seth Maness, who yielded 11 runs in 11 2/3 frames. Non-roster invitee Neshek earned one relief spot. With just a few days of camp remaining, the Cards brought in another, David Aardsma. However, Aardsma was not ready and the last pen seat went to Keith Butler (8.38 spring ERA), apparently more by process of elimination than performance.
With Taveras unable to compete, outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk received extended looks in camp. Both performed admirably, with the former especially receiving rave reviews.
Coming off his embarrassing World Series pickoff, Kolten Wong’s spring began slowly, but the second baseman picked up his game. By the end of camp, he was among the Grapefruit League’s offensive leaders in batting average (.375) and on-base percentage (.434) and appeared to take the second spot in the batting order.
Among the regulars, only Matt Carpenter (.178) and Jon Jay (.188) struggled at the plate. Early in camp, the club announced a six-year contract with an option year for Carpenter and played him less than in prior springs. Jay’s major competitor, Bourjos, batted .324 in Florida.
After two consecutive springs with the NL’s best ERA, the bullpen struggles dropped the Cards to third-worst at 5.27. The offense was in the middle of the pack, batting .260, down 20 points from the prior spring.
After six consecutive years of fast starts in which the Cardinals ended April in first place, the situation changed dramatically in 2014. The Milwaukee Brewers got off to a torrid start, leaving the 15-14 Cardinals 5 ½ games back as the calendar flipped over to May.
Actually, the season opener was on March 31, in Cincinnati. Adam Wainwright outduelled Johnny Cueto in a 1-0 victory. The Cardinals went on to win either one or two games in every series, never losing more than two straight, but never sweeping a series, either.
In what clearly became a station-to-station offense, the Cardinals hit just 19 home runs in 29 games, 12th in the 15-team league. Yet that would turn out to be their best long-ball month in the first half. Peralta led the way with six homers in April, despite a batting average just below the Mendoza line at .196. Craig was in a deep slump that would continue for months. In April, the right fielder batted .220 and hit just three home runs.
In most offensive stats, the Cards were in the middle of the NL pack. One exception was stolen bases, where the Cardinals were second-to-last in the NL with just nine. After a bold off-season prediction of 40 steals for the season, Bourjos struggled in all aspects of the game and lost considerable playing time to Jon Jay.
Establishing a trend, the pitching led the way with a 2.98 April ERA that was third-best in the league. Their five shutouts and .222 batting average against were both number one in the NL. Wainwright finished April with five wins in six starts and a 1.20 ERA.
On the injury front, Ellis came off the disabled list on April 15, but was ineffective with the bat. Joe Kelly suffered a hamstring injury the next day, a problem that kept him out of action for three months. Tyler Lyons was tried in the rotation before he was injured after three starts as well.
As Keith Butler was sent down to Memphis, relievers Jorge Rondon and Eric Fornataro had trials with St. Louis, but neither stuck.
In a major surprise, the Cardinals sent Kolten Wong down to Memphis on the 28th. They also demoted outfielder Shane Robinson the same day, promoting Grichuk from Memphis for his MLB debut. Greg Garcia temporarily replaced Wong.
The club continued its pattern of winning one or two games in every series, never ripping off a long winning streak while also avoiding a long losing skid. In all fairness, the club had a disadvantageous early schedule, with 26 of their first 38 games on the road, during which they went 19-19.
St. Louis did earn its first series sweep of the season, over visiting Arizona mid-month. Opening that series, on May 20, Wainwright threw the first one-hitter of his career, earning him NL Player of the Week honors.
As the Brewers returned to earth a bit, the Cards gained 2 ½ games during the month, ending May three games out. St. Louis spent the entire month in second place.
The offense had to work hard to finish the month sixth in runs scored. Not only were the Cards dead last in home runs with 11, no other NL team had less than 20 in May.
In mid-month, Wong returned from his Memphis tune-up/exile. A few days later, both Motte and Jaime Garcia were activated by St. Louis and made their season debuts. On the 24th, Kevin Siegrist was sidelined with a shoulder injury, so Sam Freeman became the second left-hander in the bullpen and contributed almost immediately.
Journeyman outfielder Joey Butler, who had been removed from the 40-man roster at the end of spring camp, was given a brief try in St. Louis in May after tearing up the Pacific Coast League in April. After a handful of at-bats, Butler’s contract was sold to a team in Japan.
As May ended, Matt Adams went onto the disabled list with a calf injury, opening the door for Taveras to make his MLB debut. Though it was hoped the top prospect outfielder would catch fire immediately and lead the listless offense, it would not be the case.
Though this was the first June in the last three years that the Cardinals had a winning record, it was barely the case at 14-13. While holding down second place continuously since April 12, St. Louis lost 3 ½ games in the standings to division-leading Milwaukee during the month.
June began badly for the club as they lost five of six, including three of four to cross-state rival Kansas City. As was the case all season long, the pitching stemmed the slide, with four shutouts in the next five games. In mid-month, the Cards ran off a five-game winning streak against Washington and New York, only to finish the month by losing three of four in Los Angeles while scoring a total of just four runs.
The club managed that winning record despite an offense that batted a collective .236 during June. The pitching staff’s ERA of 3.21 was the NL’s third-best.
Adams returned to the lineup mid-month with Taveras sent back down to Memphis. Reliever Nick Greenwood made his MLB debut, becoming the third left-hander in the bullpen.
On the 22nd, Wong was placed on the DL after having struggled for several weeks with an injured shoulder. The next day, 2/5 of the rotation went down as both Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia joined Wong.
Garcia needed surgery to remove a rib to relieve a nerve pain, a procedure similar to the one that essentially ended Chris Carpenter’s career. Wacha’s injury was unique – a stress fissure that led to him being out until September, and even then, the right-hander was not right.
Both rotation additions were temporary. Martinez moved from the bullpen to take one spot. To fill the other, 2013 first-rounder Marco Gonzales was promoted from Double-A in a three-start trial that did not go particularly well.
Despite St. Louis going just two games over .500 during July, Milwaukee’s skid enabled them to cut 4 ½ games off the Brewers’ division lead, down to just two games.
The Cardinals finished the first half strongly, winning five of seven against division rivals Pittsburgh and Milwaukee heading into the break.
Four Cardinals - Adam Wainwright, Pat Neshek, Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina - were named to the National League All-Star Team. Molina, voted a starter, was unable to play. Wainwright was the starting pitcher but he and reliever Neshek allowed all five American League runs in the 5-3 loss for the NL. Carpenter did not appear in the contest.
Taveras had been recalled on July 1, but again was only started sporadically and did not take off. Wong returned from Triple-A on the 6th. Molina’s second major injury in two summers occurred on the 9th when he suffered a torn thumb ligament on a slide. The catcher remained out until August 29.
In the interim, first Audry Perez came up from Memphis, then journeyman George Kotteras was signed and released before veteran A.J. Pierzynski was added to help fill the catching void along with Tony Cruz.
On July 27, retired Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa was formally inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
As the month neared its end, the club made notable trades on consecutive days. On July 30, former AL all-star starter Justin Masterson was acquired from Cleveland for outfielder James Ramsey. Masterson was given six starts, but a 7.90 ERA tells his Cardinals story.
The next day, the team’s foundation was shaken as two popular home-grown Cardinals, clean-up hitter Allen Craig and starting pitcher Joe Kelly, were dealt to Boston for veteran starter John Lackey and minor leaguer Corey Littrell.
In his 10 regular-season starts, Lackey logged a pedestrian 4.30 ERA, but performed better in the post-season, with a 3.46 ERA in two starts.
August proved to be a most eventful period. On one hand, with the Pirates surging, the Cards spent seven days in third place, yet by the 31st, the team pulled back into a share of first.
Typical of the season, the Cards were consistently inconsistent. By mid-month, they finally got on a run, winning six of seven, only to turn around and drop six of their next eight. Overall, August was a 16-13 roller-coaster ride.
As the month neared its end, the club made several key additions. Randal Grichuk and Marco Gonzales returned from Memphis on the 26th and 30th, respectively, with Molina activated off the DL on the 29th. Kevin Siegrist and Pete Kozma followed on the 31st, making all potentially available for post-season duty.
Grichuk eventually worked his way into the starting job in right field. Gonzales filled an important bullpen role. Molina did not perform to his usual high standard following his return, however.
In addition to the players noted just above, final-month roster additions included the return of Mark Ellis, Jason Motte and Michael Wacha off the disabled list plus Tony Cruz, Nick Greenwood and Tyler Lyons from a three-day paper move to Springfield.
Minor league reinforcements were Greg Garcia, Xavier Scruggs and Tommy Pham. The latter two soon made their major league debuts. Of this September group of nine additions, only Wacha and Cruz would later make the post-season roster.
The opening of September was probably the most important turning point of the season for St. Louis as the club took seven of eight from direct division competitors Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. In fact, on the 7th, the Cards reached their high-water mark in the standings for the season, a 4 ½ game lead.
They would not make it easy, however. After dropping three straight in Cincinnati, St. Louis won seven of eight before ending the regular season with an uninspiring 3-4 week on the road against two last-place teams.
In fact, their ongoing struggles away from Busch served as a preview of how their post-season hopes would end – with three straight losses in San Francisco. Over the last two months of the season, the Cardinals lost seven of their nine road series, with five of the seven coming at the hands of teams with losing records.
Despite St. Louis taking two of three at Arizona to close the regular season, the two wins were not easy - each decided by a lone run, including an extra innings contest. The Diamondbacks limped into the off-season with the worst record in Major League Baseball.
Still, the 17-9 final-month kick enabled the Cards to win the division by two games over the Wild Card Pirates. St. Louis clinched a playoff spot on the 21st, but did not claim the division title until the final day.
The Cardinals’ overall record was 90-72, a seven-win decline from 2013. It kept them from home field advantage in the Division Series, which ended up not mattering.
Upcoming articles in this series
In Part 2 of this article, we will drill down into 2014 Cardinals players’ individual stats and team marks during the regular season.
Part 3 will recap the Cardinals post-season, along with a 2015 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 2014 team recaps.
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