It's no secret that this season has been nothing short of a trainwreck for the Cardinals and for Wainwright. The Cardinals owned one of the worst records in the National League at 71-91, while Wainwright was 5-11 with an 7,40 ERA.
The veteran right-hander experienced a winless stretch for most of the summer before battling it out for his 200th career win, thus calling it a career on the mound while getting a few final at-bats during the club's last homestand at Busch Stadium.
However, this shouldn't overshadow what Wainwright has meant to the organization, the City of St. Louis, and all of Cardinal Nation. Regardless of how poorly this season has gone, Wainwright is a franchise legend and still a fan favorite in St. Louis.
Wainwright made his MLB debut in 2005. He emerged as a weapon out of the bullpen in 2006 and even took over the closer's role when Jason Isringhausen went down with a hip injury. All he did was close out all three postseason series and help guide St. Louis to their 10th World Series title.
The following year, he found himself in the rotation. He won 14 games and posted a 3.70 ERA on the season. From there, things would continue to get better. By 2011, he had a 20-win season under his belt and a top-three finish in the Cy Young race.
He lost the 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery, and when he returned in 2012, he wasn't quite the same. However, he returned to form in 2013 and helped guide the Cardinals back to the World Series, winning 19 games and posting a 2.94 ERA. The following year, he won 20 games and had a career-best 2.38 ERA.
Injuries became a problem again in 2015 when he tore his Achilles and missed the vast majority of the season. He would return late in the season as a reliever, however.
But from 2016-18, he posted ERAs of 4.62, 5.11, and 4.46, respectively. To make matters worse, the elbow troubles resurfaced, and after a short and painful start in San Diego, it appeared as if the veteran right-hander had run out of gas.
Despite being counted out, Wainwright bounced back, reinventing himself and returning to form as the ace of the Cardinals staff. Without him, the Cardinals may not have kept their heads above water in the COVID-shortened 2020 season or 2021.
After a long layoff due to a COVID outbreak in the clubhouse, Wainwright started the first game back against the White Sox and delivered a strong five-inning, one-run performance. Two weeks later on his 39th birthday, he threw a complete game against the Cleveland Indians as the Cardinals won 7-2.
Oftentimes, Wainwright played the role of stopper for the Cardinals. Whenever the team was on a losing streak, he could always be counted on to pull the Cardinals out of their rut. He won 17 games in 2021 and posted a 3.05 ERA, his best mark since 2014, and even started the Wild Card game against the Dodgers after the team went on a 17-game win streak.
2022 was another successful season for the right-hander. Despite a September swoon, he still won 11 games and posted a respectable 3.71 ERA. However, that September collapse proved to be a precursor for his 2023 struggles.
Still, it's important to remember how valuable Wainwright is and what he has done for the city. In addition to his contributions on the field, he has dedicated much of his efforts towards charitable causes, such as Big League Impact, and his own charity Fantasy Football League.
Sadly, in the midst of his struggles, some fans have turned on him, sending hateful messages on Twitter. No matter how badly he has struggled, it isn't fair for fans to do that to him. He's been a franchise cornerstone for decades and deserves our respect and gratitude for what he's been able to do.
Most fans however won't remember the struggles in his final season. Rather, they'll remember all the good moments, such as the 2006 NLCS and World Series, the complete game on his birthday, a one-hitter against the Rockies in 2013, and other truly magical moments.
Regardless of his struggles, Wainwright will be sorely missed now that he's gone, and fans need to appreciate everything he has done for the city.