Our Choices for the 2013 Cardinal Blogger Awards

Every November the United Cardinal Bloggers vote for the best of the season just completed as well as the best of our peers. Here are our ballots for 2013.

20130831-161018.jpgCardinals Team Awards
Position Player of the Year
Chris: Yadier Molina

Yes, Matt Carpenter had an incredible, and unexpected, breakout season and earned a well-deserved fourth place finish in National League MVP voting. But Yadi is Yadi — on offense, on defense, as a leader. He’s intrinsic to the Cardinals success and one of the biggest reasons the 2013 team made it to Game Six of the World Series.

Tara: Matt Carpenter

This might seem hypocritical of me, considering the excessive lobbying I did for Yadier Molina for MVP, but it’s hard to beat the transformation Carpenter made this year. Not only did he learn a new position — and fare exceptionally well in it — but he also took over the leadoff role, carried much of the offensive weight, and went from a “probably not an every day guy” to a fourth place finish in the MVP voting. I’ve always seen something special in Matt, but this year exceeded even my lofty expectations!

Pitcher of the Year
Chris: Adam Wainwright

With a starter plus two eighth-inning-guys-turned-closers, it’s not necessarily an equal comparison to choose among these three options. But, in the end, results speak for themselves. Nineteen wins (regardless of your opinion on them, that’s not a total many pitchers reach in a season), 2.94 ERA, 219 strikeouts with only 35 walks, five complete games, two shutouts and 6.2 WAR speak pretty loudly — as does a complete game in the decisive Game Five of the NLDS after a dominant Game One start.

Tara: Trevor Rosenthal

There was nothing more impressive than how Rosey handled the postseason. His first appearance in the NLDS, I thought he was going to pass out on the mound! But (after that magical talk from Molina), he did more than just settle. He absolutely owned the 9th inning. The confidence, the accuracy, the power … he was phenomenal. It wasn’t just the posteason, though that’s most distinct in my memory. He started the season as a key piece of a bullpen in flux. Not knowing what his role was, or what it might morph into, he steadily improved, and, for the most part, consistently executed. What a year he had!

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Not Much Positive In Game Four Loss

For the first four innings, Game Four of the World Series was good from the St. Louis Cardinals perspective.

Sad smileyThen it wasn’t.

And, since we all know there are nine innings in a game, we’re now looking at a 2-2 Series tie after the Cardinals lost to the Boston Red Sox 4-2.

Through the first four innings, Lance Lynn was terrific — facing only the minimum number of Red Sox after the one base runner he did allow (David Ortiz, of course, on a second inning single) was erased on a double play.

Plus the Cardinals scored a run in the third when Matt Carpenter singled with one out, advanced to second when Jacoby Ellsbury let the ball get past him in center field for an error and scored when Carlos Beltran (of course) singled.

Then the fifth inning arrived, as did the beginning of the end. We all know about Lynn and his one bad inning. As an October special, it actually extended over two innings, the fifth and the sixth. Although the fifth inning actually could have been much worse, as a lead-off double by Ortiz (of course) and back-to-back walks to Jonny Gomes and Xander Bogaerts loaded the bases with no outs. Stephen Drew was next, with a sacrifice fly to left to tie the game — and the only run of the inning.

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Action, Drama And The Right Ending In Game Four Blockbuster

Game Four of the NLCS was like an epic action movie — dramatic moments, heroes both predictable and less so who face rough times, villains also predictable and less so, enough tension to keep you interested up until the very end. And, thankfully, the right ending with the heroes emerging triumphant: Cardinals 4, Dodgers 2.

collage 10-15Yes, the win gives the Cardinals a 3-1 advantage in the NLCS. But all Cardinals fans should know well enough nothing is guaranteed yet — didn’t we see a certain movie last year where the “heroes” ultimately wore black and orange, not red as good guys always should? So this epic tale is not finished quite yet …

But the latest installment was ultimately quite fulfilling.

And, as with any good story, it’s outcome was not predictable at the beginning.

To start with, not everyone was happy with director Mike Matheny’s choice for last night’s lead role, Lance Lynn. And those who voiced such displeasure before the game felt like they were the correct ones when Lynn ran into trouble in the second inning — a quick check of Twitter at the time more than made that perfectly clear. Then again a one-out single, walk, line out and another walk to load the bases, albeit to the catcher with pitcher Ricky Nolasco up next, can cause such reactions. But perhaps Lynn just wanted to keep everyone watching involved in the game, as Nolasco was called out on strikes.

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Kelly And Company Escape With Game One Winner

It didn’t look good.

That moment many have feared since Joe Kelly returned to the starting rotation —  the Joe Kelly 1moment the league catches up with his magic tricks — appeared to have arrived. Too many pitches. Too many base runners. Too much adrenaline booming through his usually mellow veins.

That was the first three innings. The good news is, it takes at least nine innings to tell the whole story.

Yes, in the first three innings, Kelly struggled. A single, a hit batter, and a wild pitch in the first; another runner at second base with two outs in the second; and a double, two walks, a botched 1-2-3 double play and a base knock in the third, and the Dodgers — behind Zach Greinke — had a 2-0 lead.

But, we know how this story goes. Where Adam Wainwright is the Ace, Michael Wacha is the Boy Wonder, and Shelby Miller is the Near-Perfect Game guy, Kelly is the Escape Artist. He weaves his way into, and then out of, trouble. He ties himself in knots, bound with the chains of one of baseball’s most potent lineups. And yet, he escapes.

It baffles the minds of the sabermetricians. The numbers don’t always add up. He shouldn’t be this successful. He keeps getting lucky.

… I think he gets lucky a lot. And I have nothing against getting lucky. Continue reading

Cardinals Backs Against The Wall? That’s Familiar

The St. Louis Cardinals lose a heartbreaker in the postseason and now face a must-win game — where have we seen this before?

Oh, that’s right. Last October. And the October before that.

Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

                      Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

And how did those particular division series turn out?

Yes, it’s a very familiar October situation in which the Cardinals find themselves after falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 yesterday. The game was definitely winnable, which perhaps makes the loss even more painful.

Too many of the automatics from the 2013 Cardinals — hitting with runners in scoring positions, the rookies in the bullpen coming through when called upon — didn’t happen.

So here we are.

One person who is automatic in October, and continued the trend yesterday, was Carlos Beltran. You’ll remember that he tied Babe Ruth on Thursday with his 15th career postseason homer. Thanks to his eighth inning game-tying blast off Mark Melancon yesterday, he’s now surpassed The Babe with his 16th in 136 at-bats (compared to Ruth’s 15 in 129 at-bats). Surprisingly — or perhaps not, given the record at PNC Park this year — that was the first home run the Cardinals have hit there this season.

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Bizarro World Takes Over Cardinals In Game Two

Emotions are always higher in October. Friday’s NLDS Game Two unfortunately gave us an unwelcome reminder — just as wins are sweeter in the postseason, losses are even more painful.

NLDS game 2

Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It was another sunny and beautiful afternoon at Busch Stadium, but Game Two quickly became a bizarro world replay of Game One. Everything was reversed, as the Pirates won 7-1.

Well, Lance Lynn didn’t quite do an A.J. Burnett impression, as the five runs he allowed were over three separate innings instead of just one, but he looked more like the Lynn of August instead of September. Unfortunately.

The defensive misplays? The Cardinals this time, although only one official error — by David Freese — compared to the three by the Pirates on Thursday. But Jon Jay misjudged a fly ball in the second that fell in and bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double. Yadier Molina — yes, Yadi — didn’t get a pop-up behind the plate. Matt Carpenter couldn’t get the ball out of his glove in what could have been a double play.

The bullpen management by Mike Matheny also was interesting, to say the least.

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One More Cardinals Win Means Best Record

With a record of 96-65, the St. Louis Cardinals currently top the National League — thanks to the Philadelphia Phillies hanging on to beat the Atlanta Braves last night.

one-1A Cardinals win today, or a Braves loss, would give the Cards home field advantage throughout the playoffs as well as the wild card winner of either the Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds as their division series opponent.

Once again, a magic number of one.

While it seems like Cardinals fans are all for achieving that best record, manager Mike Matheny doesn’t necessarily share that sentiment as Jason Mastrodonato writes at Cardinals.com:

“Maybe I should put more [emphasis on home-field advantage], but I don’t,” Matheny said. “My theory is people start overthinking that and over planning and trying to be a master puppeteer in how that all plays out. I think that stuff comes back and bites you. I think there’s too many good teams in this right now and we got to respect that, respect the game, just like we’ve done all season long and what we do is we go out and set our priorities.

“I made it clear to you guys right now, our priority is getting these guys ready for Thursday. But whenever we walk out there we also don’t want to lose that culture that we developed of going out and maximizing everything we’ve got while we’re out there out. No matter who we put out there, we’re playing to win all the time.”

So, does it look like Mike is saying “take that, everyone complaining about Jake Westbrook starting today”?

Anyway, yesterday’s game was a rather easy 6-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, and it was cruising along as another shutout until the ninth inning.

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One Is Definitely The Number For The Cardinals Lately

One is an important number for the St. Louis Cardinals these days, and it has nothing to do with Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

It’s the magic number for the Cardinals to clinch the National League Central title outright.

9-25-13

Photo: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It’s the number of runs allowed by Shelby Miller in six innings during yesterday’s 4-1 sweep of the Washington Nationals.

It’s the total number of hits allowed in the three innings after that, from four relievers.

And one, or less, is the total years of experience from the five Cardinals who pitched yesterday — rookies all. (Of course, “one” and “rookie” also means Michael Wacha’s grand total of hits on Tuesday night.)

One is not a lonely number at all — sorry, Three Dog Night. It’s a great number.

And great can be a word to describe this September for the Cardinals too, as their record is now 18-8.

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Cards Battle Back For Wild, Walk-Off Winner

Last night’s 14-inning marathon between division rivals was everything you hope for in baseball … and everything you hope you never see again. It was messy. It was complicated. There were more “What in the world?” moments than “That was awesome!” moments. There were misses, followed by extra chances.

Also, there was a final inning lineup that included Sam Freeman, Adron Chambers, Pete Kozma, Rob Johnson, and Daniel Descalso. So, yeah …

Cardinals beat writer Jenifer Langosch condensed it nicely:

The ace pitcher the Cardinals had pushed back to set the tone in a key division matchup sunk his club into a hole early. A routine catch not made gave St. Louis an extra breath late. The Pirates stalled rallies by moving an infielder to the outfield and later adding an outfielder to the infield. And a Cardinals middle reliever would twice find himself batting with the winning run 90 feet from home.

In all, the Cardinals used 20 of their 25 players, threw 227 pitches, stranded 17 on base and finished 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

Roughly eight hours later, and the baseball world is still trying to make sense of it all.

Cards win in walk-off style, 5-4 over the Pirates in 14 innings!

Cards win in walk-off style, 4-3 over the Pirates in 14 innings!

One thing everyone can agree on — this win was big. Dare I say, huge. The Cardinals played with more heart, with more “never say die” intensity than we’ve seen this year. Dubbed the “Comeback Cardinals” the last two seasons, they seemed to have lost that edge. I guess winning so many games in the first half with relative ease buried the killer instinct a little deeper than anyone realized. But, if there was a time for it to return, it was last night. Continue reading

The Sweet Relief of a Cardinals Victory

Ah … that Cardinals win felt good, especially going into today’s much-needed off day.

smileyThe Cards wrapped up a 21-games-in-20-straight-days stretch with a 8-4 win over the Cubs — doing what was necessary to get back on track: win one game at a time.

It wasn’t necessarily easy, it wasn’t always pretty and Darwin Barney continued to impersonate Babe Ruth despite the fact his batting average is .215 but the end result was just what the Cardinals needed. Plus Edward Mujica finally got save no. 31 — more than two weeks after getting save 30 on July 25. And he even got to bat!

Several other Cardinals had at-bats that were better and more productive, thankfully. And it all began in the first inning. Three singles, a walk, a sacrifice fly and a stolen base added up to three runs. Offense!

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