The Cardinals’ 2012 season came to a grinding and unpleasant halt on Monday, October 22. With the Redbirds’ resounding 9-0 defeat at the hands of the San Francisco Giants, another season of glorious baseball will settle into memory.
Right now the pain and anguish of the Cardinals’ season-ending, three-game losing streak to the Giants is fresh and the emotional wounds are raw. To put everything in perspective, though, the Cards were still playing baseball when 27 of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball were watching on TV.
How do we assess the 2012 season? Mostly, I think, we’d have to be happy with
the way the Cardinals battled all year long. That’s especially significant when you consider how erratic this team was over the six months of the regular season and even in post-season October.
After all, the Redbirds charged out of the gate with a 20-11 mark in the first fifth of the season. Then came a staggering run of mediocrity from early May through late August when the Birds basically were a .500 team. A late-season spurt enabled them to end their regular schedule with a mark of 88-74, meaning they were a paltry five games over .500 (68-63) in their final 131 contests.
Thanks to Commissioner “Uncle Bud” Selig, the Cardinals became the first beneficiary of the new, second wild-card format. As they clinched the sole wild card in 2011 on the final day of the regular season, this year they snatched the second wild card slot in game #161. They entered post-season play with several fewer victories than the other five National League participants, and tied for the fewest (with Detroit’s Tigers) among all 10 playoff teams.
The Cards were up to the task of defeating Atlanta in the one-game, play-in wild card game. Then they proceeded to defeat the Washington Nationals, who had the overall best record, in a dramatic five-game series that included the wildly improbable Cardinal victory in the decisive fifth game.
So, when the Redbirds went up three games to one in the best-of-seven National League championship series with the San Francisco Giants, all looked rosy. Unfortunately, the Giants stormed back just as they did against the Cincinnati Reds in their best-of-five NL divisional series, and humbled the Cards over the final three games by out-scoring them, 20-1.
That’s a depressing figure. Truly, though, the Giants earned their pennant by outplaying the Cards in the final three games. So it goes.
Let’s look at what the Cardinals accomplished, though. They came within one game of repeating as National League champions, something they haven’t done since 1967-68, and something very few National League teams accomplish at all.
They did this with a rookie manager, Mike Matheny, who never had managed a single professional baseball game prior to 2012. Matheny followed in the footsteps of future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, but handled the Cardinals with his own thinking and methodology. He certainly made his share of mistakes (why take so long to take the faltering Lance Lynn out of two crucial games in the championship series?), but his first year absolutely was one of considerable success.
The Cardinals themselves stepped up as well. Despite the departure of Albert Pujols, their core, signature star for the last decade, the Redbirds played hard and played well enough all season to parlay their chances in the post-season. With injuries to key players such as Chris Carpenter, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran, Jake Westbrook, Rafael Furcal and Allan Craig, the team found ways to win enough times to advance to the playoffs. That’s always impressive.
The Cardinals have made it to the post-season seven times in the 21st century. They’ve won 11 World Series championships and 18 National League pennants since 1926. Only the New York Yankees can top that combination.
Sure, it’s painful right now as the Cardinals’ faithful fans lick their wounds. If you’re objective, though, you have to say that the 2012 edition of the St. Louis Cardinals was a proud and successful bunch.
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