Matt Carpenter reflects on Cardinals' elimination from postseason
On the surface, the St. Louis Cardinals’ 86-76 record this season was passable.
They walloped 225 home runs to lead the National League and tied the single-season NL record as six players hit 20 or more. St. Louis’ 17 pinch-hit homers established a major-league record, while its 81 pinch-hits tied a major-league mark.
The Cardinals, however, missed the postseason for the first time in six years when they were eliminated from the wild-card race Sunday, the final day of the regular season. Poor base running, exacerbated by a lack of speed, subpar defense, inconsistent pitching in both the rotation and the bullpen, and an inability to win at home all were culprits.
So, the offseason has arrived. It’s a time to retool the roster and refresh the battery. But before looking ahead to 2017, the day of reckoning is here as grades for 2016 are distributed.
In this exercise, there is no curve.
General Manager John Mozeliak
Mozeliak whiffed during the winter in his attempt to sign free-agent left-hander David Price. The Cardinals instead signed Mike Leake, and had to overpay to get him. He also dived into the international market and signed reliever Seung Hwan Oh. Mozeliak’s only pickup at the trade deadline was journeyman left-handed reliever Zach Duke. Mozeliak gave a two-year contract to backup catcher Brayan Pena, who was injured for most of the season, and he signed second baseman Kolten Wong to a five-year, $25.5 million extension in March. Wong had just 313 at-bats and spent part of his summer at Class AAA Memphis. Mozeliak made a nice December trade, landing Jedd Gyorko from the San Diego Padres for Jon Jay. Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz opened the season with the Cardinals only because of an injury to Jhonny Peralta, even though it was clear he could be one of the team’s top players. Right-handed pitching prospect Alex Reyes didn’t join the team until August. He made valuable contributions in the bullpen and the rotation and should have been around most or all of the season. GRADE: C
Manager Mike Matheny
Matheny spent most of the season trying to convince himself, and others, that the Cardinals’ best baseball was right around the corner. But the Cardinals never won more than five in a row and it wasn’t until the last day of the season that they reached 10 games over .500. It took 10 attempts to get there. Matheny, always searching for an answer, employed 146 different lineups. Injuries were a factor in that, as Diaz, Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta all suffered significant physical setbacks. The various lineups probably hurt the defense, which committed 107 errors and ranked 11th in the NL. Matheny’s handling of the bullpen came under fire on several occasions. He enjoys using his relievers in defined roles, but that was something that became difficult after injuries to closer Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Tyler Lyons and Seth Maness. GRADE: C
At 34, Molina never wore down and enjoyed one of the best offensive seasons of his career, batting .307 with 38 doubles, eight home runs, 58 RBIs and a team- and career-high 164 hits in a career-high 147 games. Molina led all catchers in innings with 1,218 1/3 and batted .388 (38-for-98) with a .561 slugging percentage in his final 27 games. Molina threw out just 18 of 85 basestealers, a career-low 21 percent. But Cardinals pitchers were woefully inadequate holding runners close. Many times, Molina didn’t even attempt a throw. GRADE: A
The third baseman suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb during a spring-training game and was never quite himself as he batted .260 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 82 games. He was especially ineffective against left-handed pitching, batting .182 with two homers and four RBIs in 77 at-bats. Peralta was, however, better in the second half and the Cardinals hope he can finish his four-year contract on a high note in 2017. GRADE: C-minus
Holliday closed out his 7 1/2 years with the Cardinals by batting .246 with 20 homers and 62 RBIs in 110 games. He suffered a broken thumb Aug. 11, but returned for a magical final weekend of the season against Pittsburgh and had a home run and an RBI single in two pinch-hit at-bats. They were the first two pinch-hit RBIs of his career. Holliday, 36, has been a consummate hitter and professional in his time with the Cardinals, and his presence in the lineup made the team’s order one of the most feared in the NL. He could bounce back for one or two seasons, but it likely won’t be with the Cardinals after Mozeliak said the team probably won’t pick up a $17 million option. GRADE: C
Diaz was a breath of fresh air in his rookie season. Peralta’s injury opened up a spot on the roster, and Diaz effectively took over at shortstop, where Peralta had been playing before being converted to third base. Diaz batted .402 (37-for-92) in his first 28 games and struck out just eight times. He earned a spot on the National League All-Star team and finished at .300 with 28 doubles, 17 home runs and 65 RBIs in 111 games. He missed 37 games because of a broken right thumb suffered July 31 when he was hit by a pitch from Miami’s Andrew Cashner, and the Cardinals were 26-33 without him. Diaz returned Sept. 12 and chipped in with clutch hits, including a grand slam Tuesday, as the Cardinals stayed in the wild-card hunt until the final day of the season. Defensively, Diaz handled himself adequately despite the demands of the position. GRADE: A
A strained right oblique sidelined Carpenter for a month and forced him to miss the All-Star Game. But when healthy, he turned in his typically solid season, batting .271 with 36 doubles, six triples, 21 homers and 68 RBIs in 129 games. As usual, Carpenter worked the count, fouling off pitches and extending at-bats. He averaged 4.21 pitches per plate appearance, and his 81 walks and .380 on-base percentage led the Cardinals. Carpenter played the majority of the season at third base, but when Peralta returned, Carpenter moved to second base and also played a career-high 40 games at first base. GRADE: B
Wong acknowledged in the final week of the season that the contract extension he signed during spring training applied more pressure than he believed it would. The Cardinals were firmly convinced Wong was in line for a career season, but instead, he batted .240 with 23 RBIs in 121 games. Wong struggled mightily at Busch Stadium, batting .207. He spent one week in June working out the kinks at Memphis. When he returned, Matheny used him in center field and left field. He still played the majority of his games at second base, but Carpenter’s shift from third base to second base squeezed Wong out of playing time. GRADE: D
Moss, an outfielder and first baseman, was so consistent for most of the season that the Cardinals considered approaching him about a long-term deal before he reached free agency. But the good-natured Moss endured a dreadful 7-for-95 slump (.074) between Aug. 27 and Sept. 28, dropping his average from .270 to .224. Moss finished at .225 with 28 homers and 67 RBIs and a .300 on-base percentage, and he tied for the team lead with 141 strikeouts. Moss might have played himself out of the club’s plans for 2017. GRADE: C
Grichuk finished strong with five home runs and 16 RBIs in September, but it hardly salvaged a season in which he twice was optioned to Memphis after extended dry spells. Grichuk, expected to have a breakthrough year in center field, closed with a .240 average, 24 home runs and 68 RBIs. He had a team-low .289 on-base percentage and tied Moss for the most strikeouts on the team with 141. GRADE: C-minus
The Cardinals weren’t sure where Gyorko would play or how many at-bats he would receive after they acquired him Dec. 8 from the San Diego Padres for center fielder Jon Jay. Gyorko made his presence felt with a long-ball bat that produced a career-high 30 homers in just 400 at-bats, including 23 in 261 at-bats against right-handed pitchers. Forty-five of Gyorko’s 59 RBIs came on home runs. Gyorko could enter the 2017 season as the starting second baseman if the Cardinals trade Wong and Peralta and move Carpenter to third base. Gyorko also could return in the same role he had this year, playing all over the infield and coming off the bench when he doesn’t start. But the Cardinals seem determined to maximize Gyorko’s power. GRADE: B
Piscotty did nothing to make the Cardinals believe he won’t be an elite hitter in the near future. Although his average dropped to .273 from .305 as a rookie in 2015, Piscotty whacked 35 doubles, hit 22 homers, led the club in runs scored with 86 and drove in a team-high 85 in 153 games. He had a .400 on-base percentage against left-handers. Defensively, Piscotty was solid in right field. His best years are right around the corner. A focus for next season will be cutting down on his unusually high strikeout total (133). GRADE: B
Garcia gained a reputation for giving the Cardinals a quality at-bat, and on two different occasions this season, he reached base in eight consecutive plate appearances. Garcia probably will never be an everyday player, but any team would covet a left-handed hitter off the bench who bats .276 with a .393 on-base percentage. GRADE: B
After an injury-riddled 2016 season, Adams remained healthy this year and pounded 18 doubles and 16 homers in 297 at-bats, although his average was just .249. Adams was a rock off the bench, batting .324 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 37 at-bats. It will be interesting to see what the Cardinals do with Adams, who could draw interest from other teams because of his power potential. But if Moss signs elsewhere, Adams could be the starter at first base in 2017. GRADE: C-plus
Hazelbaker led the pinch-hit home-run parade with four and finished with 12 homers and 28 RBIs. The outfielder batted .235 and if he returns in 2017, it will be as a backup outfielder, pinch-hitter and pinch-runner. On a team with very little speed, Hazelbaker was one of its best runners. GRADE: C
Pham was in the starting lineup on Opening Day in Pittsburgh, but he couldn’t handle the offensive side of the game. Despite hitting seven doubles and nine home runs, Pham batted .226 and fanned 71 times in 159 at-bats. GRADE: D
Wainwright remained a warrior in the rotation as he led the staff with 33 starts and 198 2/3 innings. But his stuff wasn’t as consistent and he finished with a 13-9 record, a career-high 4.62 ERA and 220 hits allowed. Wainwright was still fighting the effects of the Achilles’ injury that sidelined him for most of the 2015 season, and perhaps that explains the drop-off in his production. But Wainwright is 35, and it’s hard to determine how much he has left in a right arm that has thrown 1,768 1/3 innings in an 11-year career. GRADE: B-minus
Martinez moved to the head of the class this season, taking over as the recognized ace of the rotation at 25. His 16-9 record and 3.04 ERA topped the starting staff, as did his 174 strikeouts. Martinez, who would have been the Cardinals’ starter in the wild-card game against the New York Mets, allowed just 15 home runs in 195 1/3 innings, an indication that hitters had difficulty squaring up pitches against him. In his last two seasons, Martinez is 30-16 with a 3.02 ERA, and his best is yet to come. But like most of Cardinals pitchers, he must improve at holding baserunners. GRADE: A-minus
Leake took the ball and had no health issues in his first seasons with the Cardinals, going 9-12 with a 4.69 ERA and working at least six innings in 21 of his 30 starts. But is that what the Cardinals had in mind when they signed Leake to a five-year, $80 million contract in December? Leake permitted 203 hits in 176 2/3 innings, and pitching to contact on a team that wasn’t smooth in the field didn’t help matters. Baserunners stole 16 of 20 bases while Leake was on the mound. GRADE: C-minus
Garcia remained a riddle. He was finally healthy for a full season, but his effectiveness wasn’t there as he finished 10-13 with a 4.67 ERA and 26 home runs allowed in 171 2/3 innings. His ERA was almost double what it was in 2015 (2.43). The Cardinals moved Garcia, 30, to the bullpen for two games in late September after shaky starts Sept. 8 and Sept. 13, but rookie Luke Weaver wasn’t ready to be the replacement. Garcia earned another chance, but lasted just one inning in his final start of the season Sept. 26. In his last three starts, Garcia was 0-2 with a 12.79 ERA. He pitched five innings or less in 14 of his 30 starts. The Cardinals have a $12 million option on Garcia for 2017. It’s a reasonable price, but have they become exasperated with their up-and-down left-hander? GRADE: D
Everything came undone for Wacha this season. After winning 17 games in 2015, Wacha slumped to 7-7 with a 5.09 ERA and the stress reaction in his right scapula that plagued him in 2014 made a return visit and landed him on the disabled list in August. Wacha returned as a reliever Sept. 14, but pitched in just four games down the stretch. In those games, Wacha allowed 13 runs on 16 hits in 6 2/3 innings, an ERA of 17.55. So it’s an off season of wondering whether Wacha can again be a viable member of the rotation. GRADE: D
Seung Hwan Oh
The Cardinals couldn’t have asked for better results from their Korean reliever, who was signed in the offseason. Oh, 34, was 6-3 with a 1.92 ERA in a staff-high 76 games, and he posted 19 saves after taking over as the closer in July. The “Final Boss” held hitters to a .190 average and struck out 103 in 79 2/3 innings. Oh had a 1.31 ERA in road games. GRADE: A
Shoulder and forearm injuries took most of Rosenthal’s season. He was 14-for-18 in saves through July 15, but 10 days later, he was on the disabled list and didn’t return until Sept. 16. Rosenthal (2-4, 4.46 ERA) was noticeably better, yielding one run on seven hits in seven innings, with two walks and eight strikeouts, in his final five games. If Rosenthal, who saved a club-record 48 games in 2015, returns to form, Oh can settle back into his spot as a late-inning setup man. GRADE: C-minus
Siegrist remained a bullpen workhorse when healthy, pitching in 67 games while finishing 6-3 with a 2.77 ERA. The left-hander held righties to a .180 average, but seven of the 10 homers Siegrist surrendered, in 61 2/3 innings, were hit by right-handers. GRADE: B-minus
The Rule 5 pick enjoyed a solid rookie season, working in 59 games out of the bullpen and finishing 2-5 with a 3.46 ERA while holding left-handers to a .178 average. Bowman performed at his best in September. In his last nine games, he was unscored upon in 10 innings, with one walk and 10 strikeouts. GRADE: B-plus
The former Los Angeles Dodgers closer doesn’t throw in the upper-90s anymore, and the Cardinals probably got from him about what they expected: a 4-2 record, a 4.30 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings. He pitched in 66 games and limited hitters to a .229 average. He issued no walks in his last 12 outings from Aug. 31 to Oct. 2. GRADE: C
The future is bright for this 22-year-old right-hander, who for several years has been the Cardinals’ No. 1 pitching prospect. Reyes consistently reached triple-digits on the radar gun after being promoted from Memphis in August. He wound up pitching in 12 games, five of them starts, and was 4-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 46 innings. His walk total of 23 was a high, but Reyes is certain to be a member of the 2017 rotation. GRADE: B-plus
Duke was acquired from the Chicago White Sox for outfield prospect Charlie Tilson at the trade deadline. Duke did what was asked, going 0-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 28 games and 23 1/3 innings. He did not allow a home run. Duke is signed for next year at $5.5 million. GRADE: B
Weaver, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in the 2014 draft, debuted Aug. 13 by making a start against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Weaver showed promise at times, but likely will need more seasoning at the minor-league level. He permitted 46 hits in 36 1/3 innings, although he piled up 45 strikeouts. The 23-year-old’s eight games as a starter at the big-league level should aid his development. GRADE: B-minus
Dean Kiekhefer, Mike Mayers, Miguel Socolovich, Tyler Lyons, Sam Tuivailala and Jerome Williams combined to work in 98 games this season. Socolovich has upside as a reliever. He pitched in 15 games and allowed just five hits in 18 innings, with five walks and 16 strikeouts. Tuivailala likely will receive another shot at a bullpen role in 2017. Lyons pitched in 30 games before being shut down with a stress reaction in his right knee. GRADE: Incomplete