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Who were the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals?

Defining the team is difficult.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's Note: You can typically find Audrey Stark's work at Beyond the Box Score. However, she began work on a piece on why someone should root for the Cardinals in the playoffs, and although her initial efforts were foiled by some weird rule that requires winning more games, those efforts were transferred into the piece below. Audrey Stark is a self-described, "lifelong Cardinals fan who cares deeply about Randal Grichuk's hair," and we are happy to host this post at Viva El Birdos.

The 2016 St. Louis Cardinals are finished. One game out of the playoffs, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating because there were so many moments of hope, moments when we thought, "If only they can get in, they’ll make the playoffs interesting." Defining this team is so hard because they never really had any defining moments. What was the overarching narrative of this team? I don’t think there was one.

Yadier Molina was the best-hitting catcher in baseball after the All Star break. The Cardinals had the most home runs in the NL and the most road wins in baseball. Adam Wainwright had 18 RBIs! A pitcher doing things with a bat! Yet they couldn’t claw their way back into the playoffs.

If you wanted to watch a team that was consistent, a team that made routine plays and got the runner home from third, the Cardinals were not your team. After over a hundred and sixty games of shouting "You’re better than this!" at the television, the joy in baseball was eclipsed by disappointment. The Cardinals would tell you they went into every game prepared, but watch them play and find the lie.

Through all that, they gave us a great ride.

The 2016 Cardinals did not have a turning point, but they had several unbelievable moments. The Cardinals didn’t fit our narrative mold because they did not play with their brains—they played with their hearts. It led to ups and downs and mistakes. The post-mortems in the offseason will show it was lack of pitching and fundamentals that killed the Cardinals’ chances for October, but that does not mean they weren’t fun to watch.

When the Cardinals were given an opportunity to make a statement, they took it. As fans, we saw ourselves in this team, sputtering along until opportunity knocked. When the game, indeed when the world told them they were done, the Cardinals punched back and said, "No. We play nine. We play one hundred and sixty-two." That’s what you should remember about the 2016 Cardinals. It’s not the story, though they have plenty. It’s not the skill—it’s the heart.

They ached together and they pushed onward the same. Scoring four runs in the bottom of the 9th with two outs? They did it. Three pinch-hit home runs in a single game? Done. A grand slam off Max Scherzer? Check. This season had more offense than anyone expected; perhaps that is the Cardinals’ short-term future. While looking forward, this team also showed us how to say goodbye:

For a team with that "aging core" we heard so much about last offseason, could we have asked for more? A transitioning team that contended until the final inning of the season? Cardinal Nation did not sit through 2016 because of blind loyalty. As we begin the offseason, I have to say I love what they were.

I love what they did

And how they tried.

I saw the Cardinals’ kindness

And their strength.

I’ve seen the best

And the worst of them.

And I understand exactly what they were.

They were one hell of a team.

Here’s to 12 in ’17.