St. Louis Cardinals 2013 Regular Season Questions Answered

Way back on February 6th, I penned my very first post for Redbird Rants, and in it I posed several questions. With the Cards kicking off the NLCS tonight for the 3rd straight season, it seemed like a good time to look back and see how some of the questions I had at that time were answered as the season unfolded. Buckle up, because this one is probably going deep.

Can Furcal, Garcia, Craig, Beltran, and Freese all stay healthy for the entire year?

Well, question 1 is a definite no.

Rafael Furcal never got out of the gate because he opted to try rehab on his strained elbow during the offseason as opposed to having Tommy John surgery at the end of last year. The move backfired, and Furcal missed the entire year after having Dr. James Andrews perform Tommy John surgery to remove a bone spur and repair the strained ligament on March 13th. His absence left a hole at shortstop that the Cardinals tried to fill all season long.

Jaime Garcia went on the disabled list with a tear in his shoulder on May 18th, a day after giving up 6 ER in 5.1 innings in a 7-6 Cards win against Milwaukee. Garcia finished the year 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA, which is amazing considering he surrendered 11 ER in his final 2 starts. Prior to those 2 starts his ERA was sitting at 2.25 and there were no outward signs of any issues.

Sep 27, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig (21) gets a hug from right fielder Shane Robinson (43) during the game against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Craig is on the disabled list with an ankle injury. Image Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Allen Craig went down on September 4th on a freak injury as he was rounding first base. This was a tough one to swallow because Craig was having quite a year at the plate while hitting .315 with 13 HR, 29 doubles, 2 triples, and 97 RBI, but Craig’s true career stat of the season was hitting .454 with runners in scoring position. Seeing Craig go down to yet another injury was a tough pill to swallow, but luckily the Cards once again had some depth to absorb the loss.

Craig’s loss was Matt Adams gain because he was able to step in and more than fill Craig’s shoes the rest of September (8 HR, 15 RBI) and in the NLDS, as he smacked a moon shot to put away the Pirates for good in Game 5.

Carlos Beltran played in 145 games this season, and put up very solid numbers in the process. Matheny managed getting him rest well, and Beltran held up for the whole season as a result. Once the season concludes, most people are going to be left wondering whether or not the Cardinals should pony up and re-sign Beltran this offseason.

David Freese had a baffling season. He missed the first 6 games of the year with a back injury, and then another 3 games in May, but aside from that he was relatively healthy most of the year. His game to game production was all over the place despite this relative health, but at the end of the day he still managed to post 9 HR and 60 RBI on the year. He’s been yo-yo’ed in and out of the lineup all season long, but you haven’t heard any grumblings of dissatisfaction out of him during the whole process. One thing is for certain, I’m glad he’s a Cardinal in October because he produces when the chips are down. His 2 run HR in game 5 of the NLDS was the offensive difference in the game, and somehow I doubt it’s the last big hit he’ll have for the Birds on the Bat this season.

Will Miller, Rosenthal, and Kelly continue to develop and continue to be valuable contributors to the club?

Yes, they all continued to develop and were all solid contributors to the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals. Without the young hurlers, it’s hard to say where Cards would’ve ended up this year, but I doubt it would’ve been a 3rd straight NLCS appearance without them.

Which one of the 3 above will emerge and fill in the void left by Carpenter being declared out until further notice?

As we all know, Chris Carpenter missed the entire season, and it’s very possible his career as an active player is over. If that proves to be true, it will be an unfortunate end for a career that gave so much to the Cardinals, including one of my favorite Cards memories – his 2011 NLDS Game 5 complete game shutout in which he out dueled Roy Halladay and fueled the fire that ended up leading to the Cardinals 11th World Series title.

Filling that type of void is very difficult, but Shelby Miller did his best as a rookie to ascend to top level starting pitcher status while posting a 15-9 record with a 3.06 ERA including a 169:57 K:BB ratio in 173.1 IP. It seems as though Miller is more than capable of taking the ball and running with it going forward.

Will Rzepczynski stabilize now that Choate has been added?

This one is easy. No, no he didn’t. Scrabble fell completely out of favor in St. Louis and ended up being traded to Cleveland for a 20 year old shortstop prospect by the name of Juan Herrera. In 23 games at Class A Peoria, Herrera hit .271 with 4 doubles, 2 stolen bases, and he posted an OBP of .333.

Rzepczynski finished the year with a .89 ERA in 20.1 IP for Cleveland. He also struck out 20 while walking only 6. It appears a change of scenery did him some good because he was terrible in St. Louis prior to his demotion to the minor leagues and subsequent trade.

Will Matheny show in game strategy improvements from lessons learned, and will he be able to buy some of the aging veterans enough time off to avoid injury going into his second year as manager? 

Sep 29, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (22) salutes the fans after defeating the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. St. Louis defeated Chicago 4-0 and clinched the best record in the National League. Image Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals finished the regular season with 97 wins and the best record in the National League despite being smacked around by the injury bug that saw them lose Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, Jaime Garcia, Allen Craig, and many more to various ailments. Every time someone went down, someone else stepped up, and Matheny did his best to juggle the talent as each new piece came up to help out in some fashion or another.

It may not have always been pretty, and there were certainly games, and player usages (Boggs), where his strategy could be questioned, but in the end the record speaks for itself.

Matheny seems to be capable of adjusting on the fly, and that trait is going to serve him well going forward. The Cardinals appear to have found LaRussa’s successor for many years to come, and stability in the managerial role is a good thing.

Will Matt Carpenter get any time at 2nd base in an attempt to get his stick into the lineup more often?

At the beginning of the year all I wanted to see was Matt Carpenter get a chance to play somewhere every day. His numbers projected out well, and he looked like he could be a solid asset for this club. Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have expected the season Carpenter has turned in during his first as a full time starter. To come out of relative obscurity and seize not only the 2nd base job, but also the leadoff spot is amazing, and it’s a testament to the work ethic and type of player that Carpenter is.

Clearly, the Cardinals have found a cornerstone core type player that does things the right way, both on and off the field. While this might be a season that will be difficult for Carpenter to replicate year in and year out, odds are good that he will continue to work even harder to improve as a player and that is all that any fan can ever ask for from a player.

Will either of the two well hyped potential Rookie prospects in Wong and Taveras emerge during Spring Training and force their way into the everyday lineup?

While both of these guys played well in the spring neither of them forced their way onto the roster.

Kolten Wong has gotten a taste of the big leagues, and it’s my hope that it drives him to work even harder to improve. He showcased speed and defensive ability that will definitely play at the big league level during his stint in St. Louis, but has yet to truly show how effective he can be with his bat.

Oscar Taveras never made it this year thanks to injury, but I’m sure his time will come. If he proves to be as dynamic a player as most every baseball executive, scout, and writer believe him to be then there is little doubt he will make a splash in St. Louis soon.

The rest of the league has to be asking themselves the same question: When will the parade of talent end, and when will the Cardinals success slow down?

As fan of this great franchise, I can only hope the answers to those questions won’t be found for a long, long time to come.

Feel free to follow Ryan on Twitter @RPKraemer

Topics: Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran, Chris Carpenter, David Freese, Jaime Garcia, Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, Oscar Taveras, Rafael Furcal, Shelby Miller, St Louis Cardinals

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