The St. Louis Cardinals fell just two games short of winning the franchise's 12th world championship in 2013. They compiled the National League's best record during the regular season. They stunned the world with some of the most dominant rookie performances imaginable.
They improved over the 2012 campaign by going deeper into the postseason as well as posting a better record in the regular season. Manager Mike Matheny showed St. Louis fans that he belonged at the head of this team.
Still, there are a few lessons to be learned from any season, and 2013 would not be any different for the St. Louis Cardinals. Matheny learned some valuable lessons along the way. The future Cardinals can take some notes from the 2013 season and improve upon it going forward.
Continue on to take a look at five lessons the St. Louis Cardinals can learn from this past season.
All statistics in the following slides were taken from Baseball-Reference.com and are current as of November 5, 2013.
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Pitching and defense build championships. That is a truth as old as the sport itself. Teams that are built to prevent the other team from scoring win despite their struggles offensively. The Cardinals learned that firsthand during the 2013 postseason run.
During the playoff run this season, the Cardinals pitching staff was on display for the world to see. Young hurlers like Michael Wacha took the stage and silenced hitters consistently. The Cardinals were able to take advantage of the stellar pitching from their own staff to propel themselves deep into the playoff run.
Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the losing team failed to score more than three runs in all but one of the games. The Cardinals would only surrender seven total runs in the seven wins required for them to reach the World Series. During their four losses in those rounds, the team would allow 21 runs to score.
In addition, during those same seven games, the Cardinals would commit a total of one error while the opposition would commit seven. By contrast, they would commit two errors during games that they lost during those same two rounds.
A different team seemed to show up for the World Series, and the results were on par with the playoffs. The team would give up 21 runs in the four games it lost and only six in the two games that it won. They would commit four errors in losing efforts and only one over the two wins.
Offense is nice to have and scoring runs is vital. But playing defense and keeping the other team from scoring is the easiest way to win a championship.
Rafael Furcal went down to injury late in the 2012 season, and Pete Kozma surprisingly stepped into the role for the remainder of the year. That gave the Cardinals the confidence to stride into the 2013 season with Kozma as the everyday shortstop.
Kozma responded by posting a .217 batting average and an abysmal .275 on-base percentage. The sure-handed defender played well in the field but was nonexistent at the plate. By the end of the season, Kozma was splitting time with Daniel Descalso.
The problem was, Descalso was not doing much better. He managed a .238 batting average over the season and a .290 on-base percentage. As if that is not bad enough, further investigation shows that he was hitting as high as .280 on July 9 only to produce a .199 batting average through the remainder of the season.
Furcal's injury left a huge hole in the Cardinals' offense at shortstop. The main goal this winter will be to find out how to repair that with a player who is not currently in the team's system. Finding a long-term solution to the problem will be a huge step forward for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals' success this year can boil down to a simple, four-letter acronym: RISP. The team's ability to hit with runners in scoring position at a historic pace allowed the team to win games that would have otherwise remained out of reach.
John Mozeliak, the team's general manager, has acknowledged in a press conference that the team fully understands that the trend cannot continue. Derrick Goold of StlToday.com reported on Mozeliak's discussion:
You have to be honest about that type of assessment and you’re probably going to see some regression to the mean. When you’re pointing to where we’re going to score runs next year, (it) is a good point because we did it in a unique way and one that is probably not sustainable.
The Cardinals know that they will need to produce better at key positions next season in order to find the same level of success. They were able to sustain a high level of production this year that they fully expect to come back to normal in the future.
The good news is, they seem to be aware of it and are looking to take steps to correct it going forward.
Delving further into the last discussion, power can be a simple answer to the run-scoring problems of the past year. Hitters that can put the ball in play and produce runs on base hits with two outs are nice, but a guy that can hit a three-run homer can make all the difference.
The Cardinals' philosophy at the plate this last year was to move runners along and allow the next guy in the batting order to do the same. There were hitters capable of home runs but not many that were producing them. The lack of power led to a change of approach, and the team found great success by doing so.
That being said, it is possible that the team will look to add some bang to the lineup to prevent the need for an approach that may not continue to be successful. Another power hitter in the middle of the lineup would go a long way in run production next year.
Matt Adams may be the biggest answer to that problem in 2014. The slugger finished third on the team with 17 home runs despite only playing in 108 games and compiling 319 plate appearances. His bat should be a big part of the retooling of the offense going into next year.
The unanswered question remains to be: What power hitter will join him in the lineup?
Much was said about the Cardinals and their young players during the 2013 season. A pitching staff headlined by hard-throwing men in their early 20s and a lineup that featured young, home-grown talent was turning heads all season long. The growth of that talent was groomed in large part by key veterans on the roster.
Carlos Beltran has stated that he would like to stay in St. Louis but also that he desires playing time. The Cardinals have expressed the same concerns, worrying that the playing time would not justify the salary commitment to bring him back. Mozeliak offered these thoughts in a press conference this week, as reported by Derrick Goold of StlToday.com:
We feel like we have some talent coming,” the GM said. “The reality is that when you look at the depth of what we have and what we have coming, trying to find (an) ample amount of playing time for all the individuals involved, I’m not sure how happy he would be. I don’t want to speak for him. But trying to find that right balance might be difficult.
Beltran may yet agree to a return to St. Louis but all signs are pointing to his departure from the club.
In addition, Chris Carpenter, who missed the entire season with nerve damage in his shoulder, has reached the end of his contract. Carpenter was in the dugout for the later part of this season and offered leadership and guidance to a young pitching staff. Having Carpenter in the dugout was surely like having a second pitching coach on the staff, and his presence will be notably missed in the future.
Young talent leads to a changing of the guard, and St. Louis will learn that lesson moving into the 2014 season.
The Cardinals have learned some lessons from the events of the 2013 season. Possibly the most important lesson to learn is that the future is very bright for this franchise.
A franchise that has built itself around core players that were developed in their system now has the ability to go forward and acquire the final few pieces it needs to bring home another championship. The young players that are coming through the minor leagues are exciting and give the team some leverage moving forward. They provide the club with payroll flexibility as well as valuable trade chips.
The team appears to be well on the way to improving beyond the already successful franchise it has built.
The future is indeed bright in St. Louis.