By Adam Kaufman, from Cardsblog.com
ST. LOUIS - Sunday marked the unfortunate end of the the Cardinals' 2016 season. It's the earliest beginning to a St. Louis offseason since 2010, and it will surely leave the Cardinals' faithful with a sour taste in their mouth heading into the offseason. However, all is not lost.
When we look back at the 2016 squad and compare it to all of the teams that came before it, we'll notice that this one didn't make the playoffs or that they couldn't field or pitch like their predecessors. What we will notice, though, is how this gritty team overcame so much adversity, that to even be in contention for a playoff spot on the season's final day was an accomplishment on its own.
Right from Opening Day, it was immediately apparent that things were a bit different than in years past. Adam Wainwright lost his first start, striking out just 3, and the offense went 2 for 10 with RISP en route to a disheartening 4-1 loss to the Pirates and an eventual series sweep at Pittsburgh's hands.
That was apparently just a sign of things to come for the Redbirds. Over the course of the next few months, the Cards were essentially a .500 team. They hovered at or just above that mark well into the month of July, and it wasn't difficult to see why.
Thought the season, these Cardinals were hampered by injuries, under performance, roster construction issues, and some questionable managerial decisions.
Their starting pitching, which was an incredible strength in years past, quickly became a sore spot as Wainwright and Jaime Garcia failed to replicate past performances. Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal were ineffective up until their respective injuries forced them to the DL for parts of the summer.
It would be generous to say that Matt Holliday's season was a disappointment, and newly discovered spark plug Aledmys Diaz also fell victim to injury. But remarkably, these turned out to merely be bumps in the road instead of crushing blows for a team that still held on to postseason aspirations.
It certainly wasn't easy, but patchwork lineups filled with the likes of Tommy Pham, Greg Garcia, and Alberto Rosario managed to keep the team afloat for the majority of the season until reinforcements arrived. Jedd Gyorko had a second half for the ages, and Zach Duke was a savior for an overworked bullpen. Diaz too had a few big moments in his September return from the DL.
That's not to say that everything that could go wrong for these Cardinals did. Matt Carpenter, who suffered a noticeable decline after a first half oblique injury, kept grinding at-bats and delivered one of the signature moments of the season: a game-tying solo shot with the team down to their final strike in an eventual 9-7 win over the Pirates in September.
That game wouldn't have been within reach had it not been for another consistent performer in Yadier Molina crushing a grand slam to open the scoring in the first. Yadi actually managed to set a career high in games played this year, and showed that even at age 33 he has plenty left in the tank.
Molina probably can claim the title as the team's MVP for this season, but his battery mate and unquestionable ace of the staff Carlos Martinez can't be discounted for all that he contributed. When the team was stumbling along or hit a tough patch in the schedule, Martinez was the guy that the Cardinals could trot out to the mound every fifth day and know that he would give them an excellent chance to win a baseball game that day.
Aside from Martinez, two pitchers who "saved" the season more than once or twice (both literally and metaphorically) were Seung-hwan Oh and Alex Reyes. Oh's ascension to closer in Rosenthal's absence was desperately needed to stabilize the pen, and Reyes turned in some of the biggest performances of the season in leading the Cards to 4 wins over his last 4 starts.
It feels weird to pay homage to a team that just missed its first postseason in SIX years, but you have to give the Cardinals credit for managing to roll with the punches and still manage to come away with an 86-76 record.
That being said, this ballclub had a ton of fight in them, and even though they ended up falling short, there's so much promise to look forward to in 2017.