Going into 2010, the St. Louis Cardinals were heavily favored to repeat as champions of the NL Central.
Matt Holliday signed a lucrative contract to continue patrolling left field at Busch Stadium for the next seven years, Brad Penny signed a one year "make good" contract to show that he was still a dominant pitcher, cult hero Felipe Lopez was scooped up off of the free agent pile for only $1 million, and the great Albert Pujols was coming off of his second consecutive NL MVP. Throw in the Gold Glove awards won by catcher extraordinaire Yadier Molina, and 19 game-winner Adam Wainwright, and the stars looked to be aligning in Redbird Nation.
Sadly, things never went as planned. The Cardinals scuffled mightily, as injuries and inconsistent play, coupled with the emergence of the Cincinnati Reds, derailed a season that began with championship expectations.
While the year was seemingly overrun with lowlights, there were also bright spots to be found. Let's take a look at the best and worst from the 2010 Cardinals.
There could be a few cases made for Matt Holliday or Adam Wainwright, but really, how can it not be Pujols? Albert the Great, Prince Albert, El Hombre, The Machine...whatever you call him, Albert is Albert, and a force to be reckoned with. Despite posting a .312 batting average (the lowest of his illustrious career by two points), Pujols led the NL in home runs (42), and captured his first NL RBI title (118). All of that came while having to endure fans, analysts, and critics alike talking about Albert having a "down year."
If it weren't for a guy in Philly that is known as "Doc" Halladay, we might be talking about Adam Wainwright being the frontrunner for the NL Cy Young for the second year in a row.
A season removed from his breakout performance of 19 wins to lead the NL, Waino got over the hump this year, and secured his first 20-win season. Add to that a 2.42 ERA, 230.1 innings pitched, 213 strikeouts, a 1.051 WHIP, five complete games, two shutouts, only 56 walks allowed, and his first All-Star Game appearance.
He missed his last start of the season with soreness in his pitching arm, but the future looks brighter every year with the King of the Curveball.
When Jason Motte was initially brought up, he was touted as a possible closer of the future. The flame-throwing former catcher had a lot of growing pains, but stepped it up big in 2010.
Motte refined his secondary pitches, and slightly altered his mechanics this year (his arm doesn't fan out as much during the follow-through of his delivery), and both have paid big dividends. By mixing in cutters, two-seamers, and a tight little curveball, Motte crafted a 4-2 record in 56 games, and posted a bullpen-best 2.24 ERA.
Honorable Mention: Kyle McClellan
Yadier Molina, C: Yadi already has two Gold Glove under his belt (2008, 2009), and should pick up his third in a row this offseason. This season he threw out 48.5% of would-be base stealers, committed only 5 errors, had a fielding percentage of .995, allowed only 5 passed balls, and had 79 assists. Hopefully the voters won't hold his subpar offensive performance against him.
Albert Pujols, 1B: Unfortunately for Albert, there is a guy in San Diego named Adrian Gonzalez playing first base whom the national voters seem to love. Still, the former third baseman, turned outfielder, turned first baseman has become as much a human highlight reel on defense as he has on offense.
Simply put, Pujols plays with incredible range to his right and left, and is great at saving errant throws with surprisingly soft hands for a power hitter. He posted a fielding percentage of .998, made only four errors, and had 1458 putouts and 157 assists.
Not bad for a guy that was only put at first base because of an elbow injury earlier in his career.
Adam Wainwright, SP: Waino won his first Gold Glove in 2009, and is the odds-on favorite to repeat this year. Out of 58 chances, he only made one error the entire year (exactly one more than last season), and posted a fielding percentage of .983.
Jon Jay, RF: Jay won't get any national votes for the actual Gold Glove award. Rookies seldom do, especially ones that don't play a full season in the starting lineup of the major-league club.
Still, consider that the young outfielder made only one error all year, and had a fielding percentage of .993. Good speed allows a player to cover more ground in the outfield, and Jay certainly used that to his advantage.
Simply put, Dave Duncan is the master. When it comes to getting the most out of a pitcher, Dunc is the best there is.
There's one word that can summarize Jaime Garcia's first full season in the majors: Wow!
There were whispers, murmurs, and hunches amongst people that had seen the 23-year-old lefty from Reynosa, Mexico, pitching before, but few could expect that he would do what he did. Not long removed from Tommy John surgery, Garcia came into spring training, seized the fifth spot in the rotation, and never looked back.
The rookie posted a record of 13-8, with a 2.70 ERA. With decent run support, he could've won 2-4 more games. He also threw a shutout against the playoff-bound San Francisco Giants, facing only one over the minimum. If fatigue in his arm from pitching the most innings in his professional career (163.1) hadn't shut him down for his last two starts, we could be talking about a rookie lefthander winning 15 games.
Honorable Mentions: Jon Jay, Fernando Salas.
On April 17th, the Cardinals hosted the New York Mets at Busch Stadium for a nationally televised afternoon tilt. Rookie Jaime Garcia was pitching against his childhood hero, Mets ace Johan Santana.
Garcia held the Mets hitless for five innings, and Santana overcame some early struggles to go seven shutout innings. Neither team scored, however, until the 19th inning, and New York ended up winning it in 20 by a score of 2-1.
Bad managing on both sides was as much to blame for everything as the hitting was. The Cardinals actually ran out of relief pitchers and position players. Kyle Lohse ended up playing left field, Felipe Lopez (an infielder) ended up pitching (and stunning broadcaster Tim McCarver when he flipped a curveball to the plate), and utility man Joe Mather pitched two innings, taking the loss.
I hate to have to give this one to Brendan Ryan. After all, he's one of my favorite players, and it's very hard not to like the guy for the hard work and energy he brings to the team.
Having said that, there's no way not to notice that he took some serious steps backwards this year. After hitting .292 in 2009, Ryan struggled to keep his average over the Mendoza Line for most of the season, although he looked to have turned things around quite a bit in the second half.
As with the shortstop position in general, the weaker offensive numbers can be tolerated if the player makes up for it with his glove. Ryan had many people championing him for a Gold Glove last season, and at the start of this year. But while he has made some insanely incredible plays this year (the guy's range at short is amazing), his offensive struggles crept into his head earlier in the year, and affected his defense. His error totals were up this year from eight in 2009, to seventeen in 2010. To be fair, though, a good amount of those came in groups and bunches, so it wasn't like it was a constant theme all season long.
Ryan has a lot of work to do this offseason with the bat if he wants to please his supporters and silence his critics.
Honorable Mentions: Skip Schumaker
Brad Penny was the hired gun brought in to take the place of free agent Joel Piniero. After a rough start, and subsequent release, in Boston last year, Penny rediscovered himself in San Francisco, which led the Redbirds to bring him into the fold for $7.5 million plus incentives.
From the get-go, Penny showed naught but dominance, regularly throwing in the mid-to-high 90's, with a wicked curveball, and a two-seamer that induced plenty of ground balls. But Penny then went and showed the peril faced by pitchers in the National League. During a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Penny cranked a grand slam off of former Cardinal Joel Piniero.
Penny never threw another pitch after that swing.
It was revealed later that Penny had tried to pitch through a strained muscle in his back. However, that swing resulted in a pulled lat muscle, and he was done for the year
Freese came into the season as the incumbent third baseman, taking over for Mark DeRosa, who had signed with the San Francisco Giants during the offseason. After a slow start in April, which saw a slew of fielding errors and a meager offensive slash line, Freese settled in and get hot, and became a clutch RBI man in the middle of the lineup.
However, in June Freese turned his ankle. He tried to play through it, but his numbers began to suffer, until the club deemed it prudent enough to put him on the DL.
During his rehab assignment, Freese fractured a toe on his other foot by dropping a weight plate on it during a workout session. When he was finally healed enough to start a rehab assignment in the minors, Freese re-injured his ankle rounding third in his first game at Double-A Springfield. This time, he actually required surgery to re-attach the tendons in his ankle to his bone.
Once Freese was lost for the year, third base, like the year before, once again became a position of instability for the Cardinals.
In what has become known as "The Year of the Pitcher: Part Two", the Cardinals found themselves lacking just that.
At the start of the season, pitching looked to be a strength for the Cardinals. But after losing Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse on consecutive days, the notion that the Cardinals had depth with their pitching was proven to be wrong. P.J. Walters, Blake Hawksworth, and Adam Ottavino all proved that they weren't quite ready for a starting job in the Majors. Former Cardinals Jeff Suppan was brought back to the club after being released by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Still, the Cardinals needed rotation help if they had any hopes of reaching the playoffs.
On July 31st, mere hours before the trading deadline, the Cards shipped Ryan Ludwick to San Diego in a three-team trade that landed them Jake Westbrook from the Cleveland Indians. The trade was met by stunned disbelief from fans, which quickly turned to anger.
While fans knew that the team needed pitching help, they were unwilling to accept that it had to come at the expense of a favored son in Cardinals Nation, especially since most people agreed that the offense was what needed the most help. Ludwick had become a clutch RBI man with great power, and Gold Glove-caliber defense in whatever outfield spot he was played.
Westbrook proved to be all that he was advertised as: an innings eater that would provide a solid ERA, and an all-around good guy to have in the clubhouse. Still, you have to wonder just how much damage the loss of "Luddy" did to morale of the clubhouse, and what psychological effects it left on the team as a whole.
Felipe Lopez is proof that maybe, just maybe, you can't go home again. After a great tour in St. Louis during the second half of the 2008 season, Lopez signed on with the Redbirds for a cool million to be a sort of super-sub between shortstop and second base.
What he didn't bargain for was being asked to pitch during that horrendous 20-inning affair with the Mets, or having to cover third base after David Freese was lost for the season to ankle surgery. Flip struggled mightily while playing third, battled though some elbow and knee injuries, struggled for most of the year at the plate, and ultimately got his walking papers after repeated tardiness to games.
Honorable Mentions: Randy Winn, Pedro Feliz, Mike MacDougal.
Enough has been said about the brawl between the Cardinals and Reds, that I won't go into too much detail. All you really need to know is this: Brandon Phillips ran his mouth to the press about how he really didn't like the Cardinals (a G-rated synopsis), and the Cardinals took offense.
When all was said and done, Dusty Baker and Tony LaRussa had been ejected and suspended a game each, Jason LaRue had suffered a career-ending concussion, Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto was suspended seven games, and several players were fined.
The most entertaining television moment for the Cardinals this season also looked like it was the start of that elusive hot streak that would propel them back to dominating the division lead, but it wasn't meant to be.