Looking to become Major League Baseball’s champions for the second time in four seasons, the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals clinched the Central Division just before Game 162 of the regular season, winning a total of 90 and losing 72. It was the third-best record for a division-winner, meaning no home field advantage in the Division Series.
In the LDS, the Cardinals faced a familiar foe, the Los Angeles Dodgers, winner of the Western Division. The favored Dodgers had a 4-3 edge over St. Louis in the regular season, but that did not matter. After a road split, Cards pitching held Los Angeles hitters to just three runs while taking Games 3 and 4 at Busch Stadium. In the process of taking the series, three games to one, they defeated Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw twice.
The Cardinals made their fourth consecutive Championship Series appearance, the first to accomplish that since the 1998-2001 New York Yankees. Even though the Cards picked up home field advantage in this round, it did not matter. After splitting the first two games at home, St. Louis dropped three straight road contests to the eventual champions from San Francisco.
In the traditional 2-2-1 format for the best-of-five Division Series. Dodger Stadium was the site of the opening two tilts between St. Louis and Los Angeles.
The Cardinals went with a traditional roster of 13 position players and 12 pitchers in the series. Though they had spent most of the season in Memphis, Pete Kozma and Randal Grichuk made the squad. The latter started in right field throughout the post-season while the former was a surprise starter over Kolten Wong in Game 1.
The pen included wounded starter Michael Wacha plus three lefties, including Sam Freeman and rookie Marco Gonzales. Among the excluded were catcher A.J. Pierzynski and infielder Mark Ellis, along with pitchers Jason Motte, Kevin Siegrist and Justin Masterson.
Hopes were high with the Cardinals starting well-rested 20-game winner Adam Wainwright, who opened the DS for the third consecutive year. Instead of a pitching duel with Kershaw, Wainwright lasted just 4 2/3 innings and the game turned into a slugfest, won by the Cardinals, 10-9.
St. Louis overcame a five-run deficit, capped by Matt Carpenter’s go-ahead three-run double in the Cardinals’ eight-run seventh inning. St. Louis held on, with Trevor Rosenthal blowing a 100-mph fastball past Yasiel Puig with a runner on third to end the nearly four-hour game.
Earlier, Puig's plunking by an Adam Wainwright pitch, on top of prior bad blood between the two clubs, triggered a benches-clearing scrum. There were no ejections but emotions continued to run high through the remainder of the series.
The Dodgers turned the table, taking a 3-2 victory. The Cards had come back to tie on Carpenter’s two-run home run in the top of the eighth, but could not enjoy it for long. Los Angeles’ very next batter, Matt Kemp, put his club back on top. This time it was for good with his long ball hit off all-star reliever Pat Neshek.
Starters Lance Lynn and Zack Grienke each received a no-decision.
Once again the seventh inning was key as Kolten Wong hit a two-run home run to snap a tie score to power the Cardinals to a 3-1 win on a rainy night in St. Louis. The other home team tally came home via Matt Carpenter’s third home run in three DS games.
A major reason the Cardinals added veteran John Lackey was to get big October performances and that is what they received. The right-hander gave up one run and five hits in seven innings, striking out eight.
Again, it was not easy going as two runners reached against Rosenthal in the ninth before he earned his second save of the series. The Busch grounds crew deserved an assist as they were called out to put drying agent on the mound, giving the closer time to collect himself before securing the final two outs.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly made the decision to start his ace Kershaw on short rest in what was an elimination game for his team. It did not matter, as St. Louis’ 3-2 win ended Los Angeles’ post-season hopes on the Busch Stadium turf for the second consecutive year.
Once again, the Cardinals came back from a deficit in the seventh inning. This time, Matt Adams’ three-run blast off Kershaw sealed St. Louis’ return trip to the World Series.
Rosenthal again made it interesting in the ninth, allowing two baserunners before inducing a Carl Crawford ground ball for the 27th out and his third save.
Shelby Miller went 5 2/3 innings in his first postseason start, allowing both LA runs, with reliever Marco Gonzales collecting his second series win (also Game 1).
The Cardinals’ tally of seven home runs in the DS was most improbable. In fact, despite the series being just four games, the total was the most ever in any post-season series by a club that finished the regular season last in the league in home runs (according to Elias).
Offensively, this series was all about Carpenter, a player whose regular season was down from his very high level in 2013. Along with his three home runs, the third baseman also smacked three doubles and drove in seven runs. That was as many RBI as his two next-closest teammates combined. His DS line was .375/.412/1.175/1.587.
Jon Jay led the team in batting average at .455, but was usually left on base, scoring just one run. As a team, St. Louis batted just .238, with Kolten Wong, Randal Grichuk and Yadier Molina at the Mendoza Line or below.
To set up his pair of wins, Gonzales tossed three scoreless frames. Lackey allowed just one run in seven innings, while Lynn and Miller were charged with two each in six and 5 2/3 frames, respectively.
The Cards advanced into the League Championship Series for the fourth consecutive season and the third against an NL West club, this time the San Francisco Giants. In their LDS match up, manager Bruce Bochy’s club had dispatched the NL East-winning Washington Nationals in four games.
The series looked to be another pitching-dominated affair. The Giants came in having posted a 1.60 team ERA while setting down the Nats.
The Cardinals’ only roster change was the activation of a third catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, at the expense of reliever Sam Freeman. The lefty had made one appearance against the Dodgers, walking two batters without having secured an out.
Just as in 2013, LCS Games 1 and 2 were at home at Busch Stadium.
Both team’s aces were ready to go, with Wainwright opposing lefty Madison Bumgarner. The visitors plated three in the second and third innings and that was all they needed to take a 3-0 victory and deflate the Cards home-field advantage.
Shaky defense hurt St. Louis as Carpenter committed a bases-loaded fielding error after Grichuk gloved, but dropped a ball at the wall in the second. Wong then muffed a double-play ball in the third before the Giants’ final run scored on a sacrifice fly.
Bumgarner allowed just four St. Louis hits in 7 2/3 innings.
Game 2 offered what would be the last sustained excitement for St. Louis in the series. The 5-4 game ended in walk-off fashion as Kolten Wong delivered a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The post-season long-ball onslaught was back for one game, as St. Louis hit solo home runs in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. They became the first team in Major League Baseball to accomplish that feat. Before Wong, Oscar Taveras launched a pinch-hit shot in the seventh to tie the contest before Adams went deep in the eighth to give St. Louis a brief lead.
Again, Rosenthal made things interesting. The Giants, who entered the ninth inning trailing 4-3, re-tied the game on a ball-four, wild pitch from the Cardinals closer before Wong’s heroics ended it.
Starter Lance Lynn allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings. Seth Maness picked up the win after getting the final out for Rosenthal in the ninth. There was a major loss, however, as Molina left the game with an oblique injury that ended his 2014.
The clubs moved to the West Coast for Games 3 through 5 but would not return.
In the only day game of the series, Game 3, the Cardinals played like they were in the dark at both the beginning and the end. As a result, the Giants took the 10-inning contest by a 5-4 score.
This time, it was San Francisco’s turn to celebrate a walk-off win on Randy Choate’s wild throw to first base. The final play was a bunt with the winning run coming all the way around from second base.
Lackey put the Cards in an early hole, surrendering four runs in the first inning, but the starter hung in there. The right-hander retired 16 of the last 18 batters faced as he finished six innings having allowed just five hits and a walk.
Offensively, the Cards chipped away, finally tying the game in the seventh on a Grichuk solo homer. Wong doubled and tripled, plating two, while Jon Jay went 3-for-5 with two runs scored.
The Cardinals staked themselves to a three-run lead but was done scoring by the third. They went into the sixth clinging to a one-run edge, before falling apart. Consecutive wild throws by Adams at first base helped the Giants forge a three-run inning on their way to a 6-4 victory. Gonzales took the loss.
Wong was St. Louis’ brightest spot. The second baseman finished with a double and solo home run, upping his October extra-base hit total to seven. In the field, he made several outstanding plays as well.
With a chance to end the series at home, the Giants took care of business. Again, the Cardinals were close, but again, it was San Francisco walking off to victory.
Protecting a 3-2 lead in the eighth, Neshek served up a game-tying homer to Michael Morse. Unwilling to use Rosenthal in the ninth in the tie game, Matheny surprisingly called in Wacha from the pen to make his post-season debut. The right-hander secured just one out before Travis Ishikawa’s three-run blast put an exclamation point on San Francisco’s 6-3 win.
St. Louis’ offense again did all of its scoring early with a run in the third and two in the fourth. Jay singled, doubled and plated one before solo homers by Adams and Tony Cruz put the Cards on top.
Despite a sore elbow, Wainwright was masterful. The ace allowed two runs on four hits, striking out seven over seven innings.
Jay was on-base 11 times in the five games, with eight singles, a double and two walks, but scored just two runs. His .500 average and .571 OBP led the team. All five of Wong’s hits went for extra bases, but it was not a good sign for the team that the second baseman led the roster with four RBI. Mired in the manager’s doghouse, Oscar Taveras signed and homered in his three plate appearances.
Topping the starters, Wainwright and Lynn each had ERA’s just over three. Right-handers Seth Maness and Carlos Martinez were the only relievers to be unscored upon, combining for 7 1/3 run-free frames.
What went wrong?
Offense was again the clear issue. The weak hitting that plagued the Cardinals all season long finally caught up with them. The team followed up their .238 average against the Dodgers with a .233 performance against the Giants.
Division Series hero Carpenter batted .200, only slightly better than Adams at .222 and Matt Holliday’s .227 mark with no RBI. Grichuk posted a .158 mark with Jhonny Peralta at .118. Given that, it was surprising the team even managed to score 15 runs over the five games.
On the pitching side, there were also a number of rough performances. At first blush, Neshek’s 2.25 ERA appears solid until remembering the game-tying homer in Game 5. Six other Cardinals pitchers had ERAs of six more during the CS, including starters Lackey and Miller.
It should not have been surprising that the same Cardinals offense that ended up with a negative 14 run differential during the regular season also had trouble scoring in the post-season.
Still, Matheny’s third club was also his third playoff club. They took their post-season push through the fifth game of the Championship Series before falling to the eventual World Series winners from San Francisco.
With better overall health, especially in the rotation, improvement in right field along with better hitting off the bench, there is no reason to believe the Cardinals cannot again be a serious title contender in 2015.
Previous articles in this series
Click here for Part 1 of this article, which recaps the 2014 Cardinals results from spring training through the regular season finale.
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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