In the end, the St. Louis Cardinals' deficiencies compromised their objective.
One win away from their second consecutive World Series appearance, the Cardinals' bats went quiet as they were outscored 20-1 by the San Francisco Giants in the final three games of the National League Championship Series.
A 5-0 loss to soft-tossing Barry Zito in Game 5 at Busch Stadium swung the momentum to the Giants, who completed their improbable comeback from a 3-1 series deficit with a 6-1 victory in Game 6 and a 9-0 shellacking in Game 7.
The Cardinals batted .217 in the series, with a .273 on-base percentage and a .309 slugging percentage.
The slumber wasn't unlike many the Cardinals had in the regular season. Despite ranking second in the NL in runs scored (765), it often was all or nothing. St. Louis scored three runs or less 67 times --going 12-55 in those games -- and was shut out 11 times.
Four of the Cardinals' top hitters, Jon Jay, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and David Freese, batted a combined .183 (19-for-104) with one home run and nine RBIs. They struck out 22 times.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals' fielding, average in the regular season, unraveled against the Giants. They were charged with six errors that led to an NLCS-record 10 unearned runs for San Francisco.
There were other factors that worked against the Cardinals.
Their starting pitching, outside of Adam Wainwright, flopped. Cardinals starters averaged less than five innings per outing in the NLCS, with Lance Lynn (twice), Chris Carpenter (twice) and Kyle Lohse (once) failing to last more than four.
So, the offseason begins earlier than desired for the Cardinals. But there is plenty of good news heading into the winter.
Manager Mike Matheny's first season has to be considered a success. The Cardinals (88-74) finished nine games behind Cincinnati in the NL Central, but Matheny's leadership skills were a plus, and players exhibited the same relentless approach they showed in 2011.
The Cardinals collected an NL wild-card win over Atlanta to advance in the playoffs. And in the ninth inning of the deciding Game 5 of the NL Division Series, they twice were within one strike of defeat before rallying for four runs to beat Washington 9-7.
The core of the team will return: left fielder Holliday, center fielder Jay, catcher Yadier Molina, right fielder Carlos Beltran, third baseman Freese, second baseman Descalso, first baseman Craig and closer Jason Motte. The Cardinals could even be the division favorites.
But several question marks confront the team as it tries to strengthen itself for 2013.
* Who will play shortstop?
Rafael Furcal's elbow injury Aug. 30 ended his season and forced rookie Pete Kozma to take over, with mixed results.
Kozma, who owns a .232 career average in the minor leagues, delivered some big hits before tailing off. Defensively, he was adequate until struggling in the NLCS.
Furcal, 35, probably is going to require surgery to repair a torn ligament in his throwing arm, although that has yet to be determined. He is trying to rehab the elbow, but the results have not been encouraging.
If Furcal undergoes an operation, will the Cardinals be comfortable playing Kozma for the first two or three months of the season? If Furcal returns without surgery, can his elbow hold up?
* What about the rotation?
The Cardinals are letting their most consistent starting pitcher, 16-game winner Kyle Lohse, leave via free agency.
Lohse, 34, probably will receive a four-year deal in the neighborhood of $60 million -- too rich for the Cardinals' blood.
The projected rotation is Carpenter (0-2 in 2012), Lynn (18-7), Wainwright (14-13), Jaime Garcia (7-7) and Jake Westbrook (13-11). That's fine were it not for ongoing concern about Carpenter's health and the shoulder surgery that could be facing Garcia.
Carpenter returned from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and made three regular-season starts and three more in the playoffs. However, his stuff wasn't always sharp and his velocity was down. At age 37, how much does Carpenter have left to offer? His iron will can only take him so far.
Garcia is the Furcal of the pitching staff. Even if he rehabs his strained rotator cuff and is deemed healthy in spring training, his availability for the long-term is far from a sure thing.
The Cardinals have hard-throwing right-handers Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller, rookies this season who gained valuable experience. All are attractive rotation options if Carpenter and Garcia experience more physical setbacks.
* How about left-handed relief?
Relievers come and go and voids in the bullpen typically are the easiest to fill. That was not the case this season for the Cardinals, particularly from the left side.
They signed J.C. Romero in the offseason, believing he and Marc Rzepczynski would be sufficient. But Romero was released in May and Sam Freeman, Barret Browning and veteran closer Brian Fuentes were brought in but didn't provide many answers.
Rzepczynski (1-3, 4.24 ERA) still has upside and likely will be offered a contract to return. He must be better. Like last winter, the Cardinals are on the prowl for another lefty.
* Can the bench be improved?
Matt Carpenter was productive and versatile, batting .296 with six homers and 46 RBIs. He had five doubles along with 11 pinch-hit RBIs -- the most by a Cardinals rookie since Joe Frazier had a team-record 15 in 1954.
But Carpenter had little help off the bench. Cardinals pinch-hitters batted .190 (46-for-242) with just one home run and 80 strikeouts. And despite the one-sided nature of Game 7 against the Giants, how many Cardinals fans didn't cringe when Tony Cruz and Shane Robinson were the only remaining options off the bench?
Skip Schumaker is signed for 2013, although he had a greatly diminished role under Matheny, who went with Daniel Descalso as the everyday second baseman. Schumaker, unless he's traded, and Carpenter will be capable off the bench from the left side in '13.
But the Cardinals need a right-handed bat, probably an outfielder, who can be a presence off the bench and take pressure off the aging Beltran by making an occasional start in right. Reed Johnson or Scott Hairston might be fits.
David Wilhelm has covered the Cardinals since 1995. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.