A forgettable season was in the Cards

CHRIS TOMAN, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 1:20 PM ET

TORONTO -- It wasn't long ago when each division in the National League was up for grabs, and it looked like the winner wouldn't be sorted out until the final game of the year. But now, only one division - the NL West - is offering up such drama.

The Philadelphia Phillies opened up a large lead on the Atlanta Braves in the East thanks to a recent 11-game winning streak, while the St. Louis Cardinals have played themselves out of contention, helping crown the Cincinnati Reds as Central champs.

For the Cardinals, it's been quite the fall.

On August 1, the Cardinals were entangled in the best race in the major leagues and held a half-game lead over the Reds after sweeping a three-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates

Since then, St. Louis has gone a dismal 9-22 against sub-.500 teams. If they played just .500 ball against the teams they're supposed to beat, this last week of baseball would be especially meaningful for the club, but not even a wild-card berth remains in the cards (pun intended).

Interestingly enough, these same Cardinals have gone 5-1 against the Reds during the same time period, and 12-5 against teams fighting for the postseason (Reds, Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants).

Perhaps this is a case of being unable to get up for the weaker teams in the league, but that excuse won't cut it when management reflects on a year gone awry.

Entering spring training, St. Louis was as clear-cut a choice for a divisional title as there was in all of baseball. They boasted one of the best front rotations in the game, had the best player on the planet in Albert Pujols and played in a crowded division full of weak opponents. Yet some things just don't add up, especially considering the success this club has had in a number of areas.

For instance, the Cardinals are the only team in the majors with two starting pitchers with an ERA south of 2.75 in Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia. Wainwright, who has won 20 games for the first time in his career, is among the top five leaders in wins, strikeouts, ERA, WHIP and innings pitched in the NL and will garner some Cy Young consideration as a result.

Garcia, meanwhile, made a serious bid for NL Rookie of the Year honors thanks to the 13 wins and 2.70 ERA he surprised everyone with this year before being shut down for the season.

Chris Carpenter has been no slouch either, as his 15 wins make him and Wainwright one of only two tandems - alongside Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe of the Braves - to reach the mark in the NL thus far.

The success the Cardinals have had on the mound doesn't end there either. Their five most commonly used relievers - Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs, Dennys Reyes, Ryan Franklin, Jason Motte - all have ERAs under 4.00.

Collectively, Cardinals pitchers have walked the second-fewest batters in the NL (least intentionally), sport the fourth best team ERA in the league and have blown fewer saves than any team in the majors.

When those runners do get on and look to get themselves in scoring position by way of a steal, their success rate is at its lowest. Cardinals' backstops have given up the fewest stolen bases and thrown out 44 % of runners, largely in part to gold glove catcher Yadier Molina. No other team in the majors has thrown out more than 35 % of would be base-stealers.

And it's not as if their offense has been non-existent, either.

St. Louis hitters are tied for the third-best team batting average in the NL, have struck out the second-fewest times and have more pinch-hits than any other club.

During times when the offense has been struggling and has had trouble reaching base, opposing pitchers have helped out their cause by handing the Cardinals more intentional passes than any other team with 76. Almost half of those have been issued to Pujols, whose 37 IBB are the second-highest total of his career.

Pujols is showing no signs of letdown as he's amassed his sixth 40-plus home run season of his career and will once again be in the MVP discussion at year's end. The only unnerving thing for Cardinals fans about Pujols is that he will be entering a contract year next season. Assuredly, management will look to lock him up, but the mere thought of free agency will leave many in Missouri with an unsettling feeling.

With the season all but over, all eyes will shift to Pujols who can expect Alex Rodriguez-type money when he signs his next contract.

Despite the hardware that certain Cardinal players may take home in the offseason, the personal accolades have not added up to team success.

And it will be up to Cardinals management to figure out why.


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