Until the end, Adam Wainwright was confident.
Confident that, as in years past, everything would work out.
Instead, the St. Louis Cardinals had an unfamiliar empty feeling Sunday afternoon. Despite blasting Pittsburgh 10-4, Wainwright and the Cardinals were left on the outside.
The Cardinals (86-76) finished with four consecutive victories, but missed the postseason for the first time since 2010. They were ousted from the wild-card chase by the San Francisco Giants, who clinched the spot with a 7-1 win over the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.
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“In my mind, we were going to win today and the Giants were going to lose. That was the way I went into this game, thinking that we had to win today and we were going to have another chance to play,” Wainwright said. “We did our job. We won the game, but the Giants also won.
“But I did want to leave this season on a good note, and I felt I did that.”
Ten times this season, St. Louis had an opportunity to climb 10 games over .500. Finally, on Sunday the Cardinals reached that mark, only to look toward the offseason.
“Every time we got rolling a little bit, we would have a couple-of-games hiccup to put us almost back where we started,” Wainwright said. “That’s the regret we’ll have, knowing that we could have played a lot better baseball throughout the season.”
Wainwright, who finished 13-9, allowed two runs on six hits, with three walks and eight strikeouts. He was certain he would be so focused on his performance that he wouldn’t gander at the scoreboard to check on the Giants. He was wrong.
“I didn’t think I would watch it very closely. I was worried about my own game,” Wainwright said. “But I watched the score every inning. When they went up 5-1, you could see our dugout kind of deflate a little bit. You just can’t believe you don’t have another chance at it. That’s the sad thing. We don’t have one more chance at it.
“We could have done something just like we did in ’06 if we had given ourselves a little better chance.”
The Cardinals’ two losses in the final seven-game homestand were against Cincinnati. They were thumped 15-2 on Monday, but the game that hurt the worst was the 2-1 defeat Wednesday.
In that game, the Cardinals stranded runners at second and third in the sixth and eighth, and left a runner on third in the ninth. In the eighth, Stephen Piscotty struck out and Jhonny Peralta grounded out. In the ninth, Kolten Wong led off with a pinch-hit triple, bu Aledmys Diaz grounded out, Greg Garcia popped out to short left and Jedd Gyorko grounded out.
“The series before this one, we let a couple of games slip away,” Wainwright said. “That’s, unfortunately, the truth. Who knows what could have happened? We’re left to reflect and figure out how to get better for next year.”
The word from ‘Mo’
How much, or whether, the Cardinals get better next season depends on offseason moves made by General Manager John Mozeliak.
Mozeliak held an informal question-and-answer session with reporters in the clubhouse after the game as music by Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin blared from speakers.
“Hopefully, you can address the right pieces, whether it’s in trade or free agency, to improve upon where we are today,” an obviously disappointed Mozeliak said.
But Mozeliak said he wasn’t disappointed in the players, and he pointed out the key injuries suffered by Diaz, Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter.
“I don’t think anybody has to hang their heads in here for what they did,” Mozeliak said. “We lost a lot of key players during critical times during the season, but still ended up making the last game count. Unfortunately, we could only control so much. When you do that, you’re leaving (yourselves) a little bit at risk. We didn’t get it done.
“It’s a disappointing feeling. I’m not sad. I was just excited to keep going. This team, I feel like, was capable of doing more. We did finish strong, but we didn’t finish strong enough.”
Carpenter, who hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning Sunday, feels optimistic that the Cardinals can overcome the 17 1/2-game advantage the Chicago Cubs had over them in running away to the NL Central championship.
“We’ve got a good group of guys in here,” he said. “I’m sure we’re going to add some pieces next year that hopefully fill some holes that we have. But ultimately, I really like the group of guys we have in here. I think we’ve got a chance to win. I think we had a chance to win this year. It just didn’t work out.”
Baserunning, defense and pitching were the Cardinals’ main weaknesses. They hit 225 home runs, but a lack of speed made them overly reliant on power. They also struggled to their first losing season at home since 1999, going 38-43.
“There are some areas the guys in this room, myself included, could do a better job with,” Carpenter said. “That’s what the offseason’s for and that’s what next season’s for.”
It marks the first time that Carpenter has missed the playoffs in his six-year career.
“I don’t know what the first week of October is going to feel like at home. I don’t know what that’s going to look like,” Carpenter said. “It is a weird feeling. It’s not a good feeling. It’s motivating to find a way to get back next season.”