2011... the 130th season for the franchise, and the 120th in the National League. The 11th world championship team. Sixth season at Busch III, 2nd world championship already for the young venue. Prior to, what would be the biggest signing, Lance Berkman enters StL Cardinals legacy of great players to have donned the birds on the bat.
Unfortunately the most memorable event of the preseason was the season-ending injury of staff ace Adam Wainwright. The other story being Kyle McClellan's not losing the replacement spot in the rotation. As that would play out, he was probably not the right choice for the role. But hindsight is never 20/20.
On the very first game of the season, one could have saw that the year would be a very dramatic one. The first sign of Ryan Franklin's inefficacy at pitching (let alone being the closer). Franklin blew a save against the light hitting Padres in the very first game, which resulted in a loss in extra innings for the Cardinals. The opener was also the first sign of Holliday's weird injuries... Matt complaining of pains culminating in the need for an appendectomy the next day.
For many of us, it was already time to panic. One of the 2 key hitters for the team was out already, and the sting of losing Adam Wainwright was still in 100% full effect. However, Holliday was not out very long and returned to the lineup a week and a half later, and got on base 3 times in one game. Further bringing up the hopes was Lance Berkman's NL Player of the Week performance: a stunning 6 home runs and 1.167 slugging percentage. The Puma was back in full force, just as good as he had been in the height of his career.
Albert Pujols showed a literally slow start, in what would be his "worst" performance over a season (which is still pretty ridiculous). April saw Albert ground into 9 double plays for the NL lead in that area of the game. It would be remiss not to mention, however, that the Cardinals were an extremely prolific offense; leading the league. They did not strike out much, and showed some pop with 429 total bases. Quite thrilling after some not so hot offensive performances the previous few years.
As would be the story the whole season, the Cardinals overcame some serious question marks about the bullpen, and were the first place NL Central team. Franklin just could not get it done, and neither could Trever Miller. Mitchell Boggs was given the chance to gain the role of closer, but didn't quite nail down the position. The bullpen would remain in chaos held up by the talents of Salas, Motte, Boggs, and the very impressive debut of Eduardo Sanchez's first 10 innings pitched as a Cardinal.
To kick off May, David Freese was again seriously injured when Scott Linebrink broke his left hand with a HBP. This again shortened one of his early seasons in his career as a Cardinal. The closer role was not given back to Ryan Franklin, saving the Cardinals season. Instead Sanchez took over the role of closer briefly, and then Fernando Salas had it on lockdown with 7 saves in 7 chances in the second half of May. Pujols was still terrible for his usual self, posting a .755 OPS over the first two months of the season. There were other injuries as well, but perhaps most noticeable was the absence of the Tony Larussa for six games, due to a serious case of shingles.
Since Tony needed some time to heal, Joe Pettini was the interim manager. For a brief point of time Cardinal Nation had a brief vacation from the internal machinations of a longtime manager. Tony was not gone long though, and returned to managerial duties and overcame the illness.
The Cardinals season changed once again in early June: Albert Pujols showed his true self once again and won Player of the Week honors with 5 home runs, nearly matching Berkman's performance earlier in the season. June was also a milestone month, with Larussa seeing his 5,000th game as an MLB team manager. This month also resulted in another big injury that limited the team: Albert Pujols had a wrist fracture after he had been in every game of the season before (73 games in a row!).
This was the 14th time the Cards had to use the DL already in 2011. Punto was also out for a lengthy period, limiting the bench capabilities (especially on defense). Perhaps the main relief from June was the team finally releasing Ryan Franklin at the end of the month, since he was not able to perform at the major league level any longer. It cannot really be stressed just how bad of a season he had. Despite all this, the Cardinals were still right on the heels of the Brewers for first place.
The month of July had 2 major stories. The first of which was the stunningly quick return of Albert Pujols from the disabled list. Initially his injury carried the prognosis of a 6-8 week stay on the DL. Again, considering the fact of how close it was that the Cardinals did not make the playoffs, this saved the season. Albert Pujols just could not be stopped even in an off-year.
The other major story in July was the trade of Colby Rasmus to the bluebirds. This had all the makings of a mega-trade: possible top prospect traded for many players, including bullpen staples Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, hurler Edwin Jackson, 3 players to be named later or cash considerations, and dumpoff Corey Patterson. The Cardinals countered that with unloading underperforming loogy's Trever Miller and Brian Tallet, as well as failed prospect starter PJ Walters.
Another effect of this polarizing trade was removing struggling starter Kyle McClellan from the rotation. Granted, Edwin Jackson didn't do a whole lot better, but at least we didn't have to see what McClellan would have looked like being more and more fatigued and buried under innings pitched. It was also perhaps a slight downgrade in center field with Jon Jay, but Rasmus ended up getting injured anyway on the Blue Jays.
July also marked another Cardinal milestone with Pujols reaching 2,000 hits vs the Cubs. Albert joins Stan Musial, Lou Brock, Rogers Hornsby, and Enos Slaughter as Cardinals with +2000 hits. The Cardinals ended a very busy July with trading marginal minor leaguer Alex Castellanos for past rookie of the year award winner and rare unassisted triple play turner, Rafael Furcal. Thanks Dodgers!
After all this action, August reared its ugly head. Furcal stumbled at the plate with a .240 batting average after joining the Cardinals. However, many fans overlooked this in favor of the increased defensive capabilities over Ryan Theriot's horrific play over the first half of the season.
What made August so bad was that the Brewers trounced the Cardinals in head to head play. What was just as bad or worse was their performance vs the likes of the Pirates, the Cubs, and the terrible 2011 Dodger squad. At the low point in August, the Cardinals only had a 1.3% chance to make the playoffs. I, like most fans, had given up on the season and was ready to lose focus on the winning and losing, and just pay attention to giving playing time to up and comers. However, in another turn of events, the Cardinals ended the month on an up note, finally taking care of the Pirates and then sweeping the streaking Brewers... bringing on their historic month of September.
While the Brewers simply could not be caught this year, the Atlanta Braves were a completely different matter. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun continued to pour on lots of offense for the Brewers throughout the month. Nyjer Morgan and Corey Hart also played major roles in the ballclub's torrid ending to the season. The Braves on the other hand, just had Alex Gonzalez's 1.0 WAR of production. Beyond that, only Dan Uggla was any kind of threat. They simply did not have the offense to make the playoffs.
The Wild Card winners had plenty of it though. Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols both carried the team with 1.2 and 1.1 WAR totals in September. Arguably the best month of baseball Yadi will ever have, coupled with Albert's typically ridiculous pace propelled the Cardinals to a 23-9 end to the season. Lance Berkman and Allen Craig also chipped in .9 WAR each and a total of 25 RBI's beyond Albert's 20 and Yadi's 14. Furcal and Freese also contributed greatly down the stretch with wOBA in the .360's.
The starting rotation were perhaps the key to the improbable comeback. Chris Carpenter lead the charge, pitching 46 innings of undefeated baseball (1.1 WAR), while Kyle Lohse was nearly unhittable (.9 WAR in 26 innings), and Jaime Garcia and Edwin Jackson rounded out the undefeated rotation (in W-L). Out of the bullpen, Dotel pitched 12 innings at under 2 FIP, and Motte also did really well locking down the end of the games with 8 saves in September.
Perhaps the one event that proved fateful for the Braves was starting on Sept. 9. The Cardinals won in extra innings during that first game, and then ended up sweeping Atlanta over the 3 game series. Despite the sweep the Cards were still 4.5 games behind the Braves, and only still had a 7.7% of making the postseason. The next important milestone was when the Cardinals took 3 of 4 from the NL East leading Phillies. Even after all this and help from Omar Infante in dramatic fashion, the Cardinals still remained 2.5 games back in the Wild Card, and had raised their odds to only 17.7% for the postseason.
After climbing even a little closer, and taking care of the Cubs, the Cards lost a very disappointing game to the AAAA Houston Astros. They bounced back again showing great resiliency and finished them off the last two games. Meanwhile, the still scuffling Braves had to play their division's champions, the Phillies. In true eleventh level dramatic 2011 fashion, the Braves lost the season in the 13th inning and the Cardinals had made it through the gauntlet without even a 1 game playoff involved. The rest is history.
The September 2011 Cardinals and Braves inversely mirrored each other: an 18-8 run for the Cards, and a 9-18 end for the Braves. Very few combebacks match this level, including only the '64 Cardinals and perhaps the '07 Rockies. To further analyze the Cardinals comeback, Molina and Berkman were both very powerful in high leverage situations. Pujols, Furcal, Chambers, and Theriot also all chipped in in big situations. The team couldn't have done it without them. On the pitching side, Jason Motte, Lance Lynn, and Chris Carpenter were all lights out in win probability.
And that was the team that was able to do it all and defeat the great 2011 Texas Rangers squad. Here are each level of the postseason, and individual accomplishments:
NL Wild Card Division Series (round 1) [Cardinals in 5]
David Freese - lead the team with 5 RBIs, 1 HR, .833 OPS
Albert Pujols - lead the team with 7 hits and a .909 OPS
Lance Berkman - 4 RBIs, 1 home run, 4 runs scored
Chris Carpenter - 12 IP @ 3.0 ERA
Fernando Salas - 3.2 IP, .545 WHIP
Hard to say who the series MVP is there. But those are 5 key performances... upsetting the Phillies. Gotta go with Carpenter with the Game 5 performance vs Halladay though. Absolutely classic.
NL Championship Series (round 2/pennant) [Cardinals in 6]
David Freese - 1.691 OPS, 9 RBIs, 3 home runs
Albert Pujols - 1.469 OPS, 9 RBIs, 2 home runs
Fernando Salas - 6 IP @ 1.5 ERA
Jason Motte - perfect in 4.2 IP, 2 saves
Ultimately, the Brewers were defeated by the Cardinals bullpen. Jason Motte, Lance Lynn, Fernando Salas, Octavio Dotel, and Marc Rzepscynzki canceled out the potent Brewers' offensive attack. That group pitched nearly 18 innings and gave up 3 total runs (1.5 ERA for the group, 0 if you count only Motte and Lynn). This bullpen effectively bailed out poor performances from most of the rest of the pitching roster, including all the starters who could not contain the Brewers hitters. This is all the more amazing, considering Jackson, Lohse and Garcia were all completely awful in the NLCS, & while ace Carpenter only pitched 5 innings at 5.4 ERA and a terrible 1:1 K/BB ratio.
2011 World Series vs the Texas Rangers [Cardinals in 7]
David Freese - 1.160 OPS, 7 RBI, walkoff extra inning home run
Allen Craig - 1.154 OPS, 3 home runs
Lance Berkman - 1.093 OPS, 11 hits, 9 runs scored
Albert Pujols - 1.064 OPS, 3 home runs, 8 runs scored
Matt Holliday - 7 walks in 19 at bats
Chris Carpenter - 19 IP @ 2.84 ERA
Jaime Garcia - 10 IP @ 1.80 ERA
Mitchell Boggs & Marc Rzepczynski - .750 WHIP
Lance Lynn - 5.2 IP, 4K
Octavio Dotel - 3.2 IP, 5K
In the end, the Rangers could not hold back Freese, Berkman, Pujols, and Allen Craig. Only two of their pitchers were effective against this lineup, Holland and Lewis, while Napoli and Beltre were the only 2 Rangers to really figure out Cardinal pitching in the 7 game series.
This will go down as one of the most memorable seasons in baseball history, and especially for Cardinal fans. The team was able to overcome many injuries, insurmountable odds, and many high pressure situations. After beating the Brewers, the Cardinals had attained their 18th NL pennant. The Cardinals are the only team in history to have been in 3 of the last 10 world series. The bat man, David Freese, was named the World Series MVP, and won something that looks like the batmobile.
The world series game 7 will seem in retrospect like an afterthought to one of the greatest comebacks EVER in game 6, but it was important that the team was not losing focus and had Chris Carpenter available to go out there and pitch for the third time in the series. Probably the true World Series MVP, I would actually consider naming him the regular season MVP, having one of the rare years where a pitcher gets the nod. Losing Adam Wainwright left a big gap open in the rotation, and the 36 year old Carpenter was up to the task leading the National League in innings pitched at 237.1 (exactly the amount of innings pitched by stalwart CC Sabathia and more innings than counterpart Roy Halladay).
A few more blurbs...
- Cardinals lead the National League in offense and WAR, despite a -30.8 Fld component
- 6th most home runs, right behind the Rockies at 162 (or 1 per game!)
- the 2011 Cardinals scored 762 runs and stole the least amount of bases
- the team's OBP was an impressive .341
- the Cardinals lead the league in ground ball percentage and had the 8th best FIP at 3.75
- the White Sox were the only AL team with a better FIP than the Cardinals
- per month bullpen FIP: 3.73 Apr | 3.86 May | 5.12 Jun | 3.55 Jul | 3.13 Aug | 3.92 Sep
- the starters had their best month in September, and worst in June
- Carpenter and Garcia made a great 1-2 dual ace and Lohse had a nice bounceback season
- reliever WAR: Jason Motte 1.5 in 68 IP | Fernando Salas 1.0 in 75 IP | Octavio Dotel .9 in 24.2 IP
- Ryan Theriot's UZR/150 at SS was -14.8 and 17.6 at 2B
- David Freese's UZR/150 was 3.9 and Dan Descalso -6.6 in about the same amount of innings
- since 2001 the Cardinals have accumulated the most WAR from their players at nearly 360 WAR; only the Phillies and Braves are even close (Yankees and Red Sox round out the top 5)
- Freese and Pujols each had 5 home runs in the postseason
- Freese had 21 RBIs in the postseason
And that about says it all! Except for this: