The St. Louis Cardinals are a team ready for post-season play. With the end of the 2012 regular season quickly approaching, the Redbirds clinched in a way they didn’t quite plan, but clinched nonetheless. Looking ahead, they will face the Atlanta Braves in a 1-game Wild Card showdown that will determine which team advances. A chance for a twelfth championship brings about a lot of rejoicing in the Gateway City, and makes any nostalgic fan want to take a look back at the season and thank those who made it possible.
My first thanks goes to Mike Matheny. The first-year manager has been through his share of ups and downs this season, but built this team into a contender. I hesitate to read too deeply into things here, because no one really knows how much say John Mozeliak had in the decision making processes and goings on of the team. Either way, credit Matheny with a tremendous job handling the significant injuries to Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal. Lance Berkman was replaced most often with Allen Craig, who has had a tremendous season, and Furcal’s spot has been manned by Pete Kozma.
Allen Craig: With a game to go, Craig’s line stands at .307 22 HR, 92 RBI, 76 runs. As if that’s not impressive enough, he’s done it in 469 at bats. That’s 151 fewer than Miguel Cabrera. With that many more ABs, Craig’s final line would probably look more like .300 30 HR 110 RBI and 90 runs. I’d say that’s not too bad for a former 8th Rounder who had just 314 MLB at bats before this season. His RISP average of .400 is video game type numbers, and makes him a valuable asset to the Redbirds for years to come.
Carlos Beltran: In his first year as a St. Louis Cardinal, Carlos Beltran’s signing has more than paid dividends. .269 average, 32 HRs, 97 RBI, 83 Runs, 13 SBs is his line with one game remaining. His signing has enabled the Cardinal Nation to just about forget Albert Pujols. The stats of the two players are basically a wash, as Pujols has a line of .286 BA, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 85 runs, and 8 SBs. Not bad for a guy who comes cheaper than Pujols and is 3 years his senior. Seemingly rejuvenated by the chance of scenery, Beltran looks as good as he ever has.
Matt Holliday: Holliday has had a fantastic season, and the stats back up just how valuable he’s been. His line stands at .295 average, 27 HRs, 102 RBI, 95 Runs, and 4 SBs. He has come down just a bit from his .310+ average that accompanied him through the end of August, but the final line of his season shows the ultimate value. With a start tonight, Holliday will tie his career best in games played, and that’s a big feat, considering the fact that health like that very rarely is what an outfielder experiences.
Pete Kozma: Kozma has been a spark plug since Rafael Furcal’s injury, and it’s great to see how seamlessly he has transitioned into the role of everyday-shortstop. In just 25 games, his line of .333 average, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 11 runs, and 2 SBs projects to 12 HRs, 84 RBI, 66 runs, and 12 SBs over 150 games. That projection seems like a very repeatable line for him, and could likely be the production we see if he’s given the reigns in 2014 or 2015.
Lance Lynn: Lynn enjoyed a sub-3 ERA until June 24th, and was 10-2 in those starts. He more than carried the Redbirds on his back while subbing for Chris Carpenter. A few sub-par starts plagued him throughout the middle of the season, but a trip to the bullpen and fixed mechanics righted the ship, as Lance Lynn has earned wins in each of his last 5 appearances, and will finish the year in the Cy Young conversation. 18-7 with a 3.78 ERA, 180 Ks is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Given the fact that it’s Lynn’s first real run in the bigs, I’d take that year in and year out for sure.
Kyle Lohse: Lohse has been the epitome of a stalwart in the rotation this season. He allowed more than 3 runs in just 5 of his starts on the year, and he pitched to a sub-3 ERA in all but 2 starts. His consistency and tremendous confidence on the mound has earned him the start against the Atlanta Braves, and I feel that it is well-deserved. In the 3 seasons he has had 30+ starts for the Redbirds, Kyle Lohse has won at least 14 games, enjoyed a 3.78 ERA or lower, and a 1.30 WHIP or less.
This post season could very well be a short one for the St. Louis Cardinals, as they only have one game against the Atlanta Braves in a do-or-die situation, but I wouldn’t count on that. An off day on Friday would be bad for the Redbirds, but they’ve proven that they are a great team in the clutch. Twice down to their last strike in last season’s World Series, they came up with the hits they needed to not only fend off the Texas Rangers, but also win their 11th World Series Title. I’m looking for similar results in 2012, with the very real possibility of another title this season. Certainly, there are the upstarts like the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals, but I find it hard to believe that a team without a lot of veteran presence will take home the trophy at the end.