The St. Louis Cardinals are a franchise with rich tradition that creates lofty expectations. The 2013 season was no different, and falling just short of a World Series championship leaves mixed feeling. Now that the dust has settled from the 2013 season, here is a look at how the 2013 Cardinals compared to the other Redbird teams of the past decade. All stats are from baseball-reference.com.
10) 2007 (78-84, 3rd in NL Central, No postseason)
The only Cardinals team in the last 10 years to finish under .500. They were an old team that definitely had a World Series hangover from 2006. They started the season 16-25 and after finally climbing back to just over .500 in early September, they promptly dropped 16 of their next 20 games to fall out of contention. Chris Carpenter was injured and missed essentially the whole season, and father time zapped the power from Jim Edmonds’ and Scott Rolen’s bats. Edmonds and Rolen were traded during the ensuing offseason.
9) 2008 (86-76, 4th in the division, No Postseason)
Despite improving to ten games over .500, the Cards finished in the bottom half of a brutal division and missed a playoff spot by four games. There was marked improvement from Yadier Molina at the plate, and Rick Ankiel completed his transition from pitcher to everyday outfielder. Albert Pujols won the NL MVP but a 7 game losing streak in September knocked the Cardinals out of the playoff picture. Career years from Ryan Ludwick and Kyle Lohse made this team look a lot better than it probably was.
8) 2010 (86-76, 2nd in the division, No Postseason)
This year was memorable for the brawl with the Reds that sparked the central division rivalry. The scuffle started between Yadier Molina and Brandon Phillips at the beginning of a game in August during a series in Cincinnati. The Cardinals swept that series and seemed primed to take the division, but they faltered down the stretch and finished five games behind the Reds. It was a disappointing finish, but the makings of a never-back-down championship team were perhaps forged.
7) 2009 (91-71, 1st in the division, swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS)
After claiming the central division for the first time in three years, the Cardinals did not show up for the playoffs and were ousted by the Dodgers in 3 games. It was a disappointing end to a solid year. The Cards traded for Matt Holliday during the season, and he went on a tear upon returning to the National League creating a three headed monster in the middle of the Redbirds lineup with Pujols and Ludwick. The Cardinals also had a terrific triumvirate in the starting rotation with Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Joel Pineiro.
6) 2012 (88-74, 2nd in the division, lost the NLCS in 7 games)
This team wore the defending world champions belt admirably, fighting and scrapping all the way to the brink of a return trip to the World Series. They only made the playoffs due to the MLB expanding the postseason to include an elimination wild card game, but they made the most of their opportunity by surviving in that game against the Braves. Then came the epic comeback against the Nationals and the 3-1 series jump the Cards managed against the eventual champion Giants before they faltered in the final three games. Considering the club had a new rookie manager and it was the first time in 11 years that they played without number 5, it was a successful season.
5) 2005 (100-62, 1st in the division, lost the NLCS in 6 games)
A second consecutive 100-win season and a first round sweep of the Padres had Cards fans thinking World Series again. But the archrival Astros had other ideas, swarming the favored Cards with their Killer B’s and killer bullpen. Albert Pujols, in the year that he won his first MVP award, blasted a huge homer in Game 5 to keep the Cards alive for one more game in old Busch Stadium.
4) 2013 (97-65, 1st in the division, lost the World Series in 6 games)
The 2013 Cards began to carve out their new identity after a year of removal from Pujols and La Russa. Holdovers like Wainwright, Molina, and Holliday became leaders of a team that also featured young stars like Matt Carpenter, Michael Wacha, and Trevor Rosenthal. The Cards finished the regular season strong, came back to put the Pirates in their place in the NLDS and looked great in the NLCS victory against the Dodgers. The World Series was a bitter ending to a great season, and the finish was disappointing because the Cards did not play their best at the end.
3) 2006 (83-78, 1st in the division, won the World Series)
This team is often cited as one of the unlikeliest to win a World Series but injuries which hampered Rolen and sidelined Edmonds and David Eckstein for extended time made their record much worse than it could have been. Also the club struggled with a tough interleague schedule, going just 5-10 in those games. Incumbent closer Jason Isringhausen agonizingly lost his stuff over the course of the season, but by the playoffs a young stud named Adam Wainwright was the closer. Master pitching coach Dave Duncan’s son Chris gave the offense a huge lift, and the team came together and got healthy at the right time for the magical postseason run. Chris Carpenter was brilliant in the postseason along with unlikely pitching heroes Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver.
2) 2004 (105-57, 1st in the division, lost the World Series in 4 games)
Probably the most talented Cardinals team of the last decade, this club rolled without a hiccup until the NLCS when the Astros briefly took a 3-2 series lead. Then Jim Edmonds hit the iconic walk-off in the 12th inning of Game 6 to save the season. But after finishing the Astros in Game 7, the Cards ran into a white-hot Red Sox team in the World Series, and with Chris Carpenter injured, the Cards were no match for Boston’s team of destiny.
This was the year of MV3, where Pujols, Rolen, and Edmonds all finished in the top 5 of the MVP voting, probably stealing votes from each other in the process. They were the heart of a murderer’s row that included Tony Womack, Edgar Renteria, and the midseason addition of veteran Larry Walker. This team was also outstanding defensively with 3 Gold Glove winners. They won 60 games total in the months of June, July and August. Edmonds went ballistic after the All-Star break and Pujols won the NLCS MVP by hitting .500 with 4 homers in the series.
1) 2011 (90-72, 2nd in the division, won World Series)
Left for dead in late August, the leaders of the team had a meeting and vowed to play the La Russa way, a hard nine, for the every single game for the rest of the season. They went 21-6 down the stretch to pass the Braves on the final day for the Wild Card. The Cards continued their all-in approach in the playoffs, winning three straight series in which they were underdogs to claim the World Championship. They could not be denied of a playoff spot in September. Carpenter refused to back down to the Phillies. David Freese pummeled the Brewers. Every single player on the roster had a role in beating the Rangers in 7 games in one of the best World Series ever. All the while Tony La Russa was pulling the strings, quietly making his swan song also his masterpiece, and showing what a major difference a manager can make.
Rally Squirrel. “They just… won’t… go… away.” Happy Flight.