There comes that time of the year where you need to look back on a season and count the topical story lines that resonated with you. Big or small, personal or professional, it is one’s job to put their own spin on a story and how it surprised them or brought them closer to the sport. This season, the St. Louis Cardinals made it to the World Series and came within 2 wins of their 12th World Championship.
This is a season where we saw unlikely players turn into star performers. Before the new year came into focus, the Cards were hoping on Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia to be key starters, for Jason Motte to be their closer and for Rafael Furcal to make a miraculous comeback from an elbow injury to play shortstop. In short, that didn’t happen. None of that happened. With the exception of Garcia making a few starts, those players ended up contributing nothing. This is where miracle workers came into play.
Nearly two months after the sting of that near victorious run ended, I look back at the top 5 stories, in no particular order, from 2013.
1.)The Emergence of Matt Carpenter
With Furcal gone, Matt Carpenter turned in one of the most historically prominent seasons by a second baseman, made all the more legendary with it coming from a first time lead off man and second baseman. Carpenter ranked in the top 5 in the league in hits, doubles, on base percentage, and runs scored. With his 55 doubles, 199 hits and 126 runs scored, Carpenter did more fill a role and spot in the lineup. He took ownership of it. Before the season, Carpenter had been a fine bench player in 2012 but no one expected him to become the league wide threat he was in 2013. This is another great find, sign and put to use piece of talent by the Cardinals coaches and front office. While incoming talent like Kolten Wong and Peter Bourjos might make fine leadoff men, it will be hard to push Carpenter from that spot in 2014.
2.)Edward Mujica Rescues the Closer Role
Sure he flamed out in September, but let’s not forget what Edward Mujica did for the Cardinals. When the fire alarm sounded in April with Motte’s Tommy John Surgery and Mitchell Boggs’ implosion, the Cards had a serious problem. They didn’t have a closer and saw limited options in house. Instead of making a desperate premature move on the market, the Cards looked to a guy they signed to be their 7th inning guy in 2012 and had never closed before. All Eddie did was convert 37 of 41 saves while only walking 5 hitters in 64.2 innings. Sure, he wasn’t as effective in September when a few injuries and harder contact from the hitters doomed his season and saw a change happen in the final week of the season. However, far too many Cards fans forget to mention what this guy did for the team in a dire time. While Trevor Rosenthal was the imminent revelation, what Mujica did took everyone by surprise. All hail the Chief and good luck to him in Cleveland.
3.)Waino Finds His Way Back
After a tumultuous return from Tommy John Surgery in 2012, where he went 14-13 with a 3.94 ERA and was inconsistent, the staff ace found his way back to the circle of domination in 2013. He went 19-9, made 34 starts, pitched 241. innings(not including the playoffs) and tallied 5 complete games with 2 shutouts. He returned to being the dynamic rotation horse we have come to know him as. After signing a huge contract extension, Waino didn’t cool off and become ordinary. He went back to being extraordinary for a St. Louis Cardinals team that lost two prominent starters before the All Star Break. After a rough early September start against the Reds, Waino finished the final month 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA. In 2013, the Cards got their ace back.
4.)Michael Wacha and Matt Adams Became Real Deals
These two players turned into big time contributors in a time of need in 2013 and provided only a sample size of the rookie renaissance that happened with this team. Wacha came up for the second time in late August and entered the rotation for good in September. What Wacha did will never be forgotten. His brilliance lies in the ability he showed to shut down good team more than once in such a short period of time. His work against the Pirates and Dodgers in the playoffs, which followed a near no hitter against Washington in September, is why people are calling him the hybrid of Waino and Chris Carpenter. Wacha, who was selected with the pick from the Angels in exchange for their signing of Albert, went from big potential to the real deal in less than a season. Expect big things from him in 2014 and beyond.
Adams took over at first base for an injured Allen Craig in early September after providing bench pop and gave the lineup a real boost. Adams took flight in the same game he relieved Craig, on September 4th in Cincinnati. He launched a pair of 2 run home runs, each in extra innings and the second of which won the game in the 16th frame. In 296 at bats in 2013, Adams hit 17 home runs and drove in 56 with a slugging percentage of .503. He also proved to be quite nimble at first base. With him in line for starting time come 2014, Adams gives the Cards potentially one of the best RH-LH combos at a position in a long time. However it pans out, Matt Adams became a legit threat in 2013 after teasing us mildly in 2012.
5.)Thank You Carlos Beltran
When he was signed in the winter of 2011(or mere days after Albert signed with LA), Cardinal fans didn’t know what to expect out of Beltran. Sure, he was the former Houston Astros outfielder who torched us in 2004-05 with big hits but this guy looked like he was breaking down and the chances of him staying healthy were sketchy at best. What happened was too good of a story to believe at first glance, as Beltran ripped 56 home runs, drove in 181 runners, and hit .282 over the two seasons. Most importantly, he played in 296 of a possible 324 games. He answered the call of duty and then some in his time in St. Louis. In the playoffs in each season, Beltran was the Cards top hitter. While he had months where he slumped, Beltran always came back with a vengeance and gave the Cards one of the most feared arms in the outfield. “Saved By the Beltran” became a coin phrase in the latter moments of 2013 as he gunned down runners at the plate and hit timely home runs. He was a great presence in the community and also a strong presence in the clubhouse. He will be missed in 2014 but I wish him luck in his endeavors and thank him for making the departure of Albert Pujols look seamless.
That’s all I got. Sure, there were other great stories, but those 5 stood out to me. Those 5 things were so important to us getting there. Yadi Molina was amazing again and MVP worthy. Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness and Rosenthal became bullpen bulldogs. Matt Holliday provided another solid season. Craig was amazing before his injury and played on one leg in the playoffs as he contributed a few big hits. Mike Matheny juggled injuries, problems, raw talent and ever changing circumstances as good as any manager in the league. A lot of things happened this season that were important and good. The 5 stories I listed above were the best in my mind. Take it for what it is.
Dan Buffa is the co-creator, administrator and writer for the movie website, film-addict.com. He also writes for the local blog United Cardinal Bloggers in addition to Arch City Sports and also writes for his personal blog, http://www.doseofbuffa.com. He is a STL born and raised writer with a need to inform and the ability to pound out 1,000-1,500 word pieces with ease. When he isn’t writing or drinking coffee, he is spending time with his wife and son in South City. Follow him at @buffa82 on Twitter and reach him for thoughts, comments and general feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.