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Plenty of blame to go around in Cardinals NLCS loss

The Cardinals suffered catastrophic failure on nearly all fronts during their stunning come from ahead National League Championship Series loss to the Giants.

Offense: The Birds were in the top handful of teams in baseball in scoring runs during the regular season. And they showed the potential for putting up runs in bunches in the playoffs, bombing San Francisco, Washington and Atlanta with an average of more than seven runs a game scored in the contests St. Louis won. But when things went cold, the Cardinals were seemingly able to reverse global warming on their own. The Birds batsmen were clueless in the last three games of the NLCS, scoring a total of one run. It's completely unacceptable for such an accomplished offense. And the heart of the blame goes to the big guys in the middle -- Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and David Freese.

Defense: The Cardinals reasonable could have had seven outs in their fateful third inning Monday against the Giants. Pete Kozma, the darling of the fans for the last month of the season and most of the playoffs, seemed as if he'd never seen a glove before. He broke the wrong way on the breakout hit by Hunter Pence that may have otherwise been a double play ball. Later he made an undecided play to the plate that ended up being too late for an out there. And his indecision caused him to miss a chance to get the sure peg at first base. Jon Jay, who didn't make a fielding error all season, made a backbreaking miscue in the inning that allowed another run.

Starting Pitching: Chris Carpenter, who came into the playoffs with an 8-3 record, was supposed to be the knight on a white steed who rode in to lead the Cardinals to the World Series after a season in injury exile. But Carp obviously wasn't physically up to the task. His fastball wasn't very fast and his breaking pitches were inconsistent. Kyle Lohse pitched his hind end off all season and up to his last NLCS start. But he was absolutely awful in that outing. Lance Lynn would have been phenomenal as a middle reliever. He was unhittable for three innings in both of his NLCS starts. But he was nothing but hittable after that, getting bombed for four runs in the fourth inning in consecutive games.

Relief Pitching: The soft underbelly of the Cardinals throughout the season, the bullpen was a source of strength late. Rookies Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly were very good in emergency rolls. Although I didn't care for manager Mike Matheny's paint by numbers management of the bullpen -- with Edward Mujica carved in stone for the seventh, Mitchell Boggs plugged in for the eighth and Jason Motte a lock for the ninth no matter the situation, those three performed very well. 

Manager: Mike Matheny's inexperience showed through in the NLCS as he was manhandled by Giants skipper Bruce Bochy. I still haven't figured out why Matheny chose to order an intentional walk of the eighth place hitter with one out in the second in game six. The strategic error, compounded by a defensive letdown, let to the big blow of the game. They say a good manager can steal a handful of games during the course of a long season. I would hazard to say that Matheny didn't steal a single game all year -- and that he cost the Cardinals a few here and there with his ultra conservative management style. I believe it also cost the Cardinals in the post season that Matheny was unable or unwilling to make any changes to his batting order in effort to shake things up. He used the same line-up in every game except when Matt Carpenter played during injuries to Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran. After missing a game each for health issues, both those players returned and were nearly completely ineffective. Why not start Carpenter in game seven if Holliday wasn't 100 percent? Holliday was a .183 hitter against Matt Cain when he was healthy. How much of a chance did he have when he was suffering the effects of a stiff back? Meanwhile, Carpenter has had huge success against Cain including a game-winning homer in game four against Cain. Was Matheny afraid to bench a $17 million a year player? I'm not saying he's not intelligent or that he won't eventually be a good skipper. But the Redbirds paid a steep price in hiring a guy with absolutely no time as a professional manager or big league coach before he got the big job.

Front office: The general manager gets a tip of the cap for adding Edward Mujica to the bullpen mix at the trade deadline. And the other moves to bring up rookie fill ins worked better than expected. But the makeup of the bench was absolutely awful. The only right handed hitters available to the Birds from the bench were pop gun hitter Shane Robinson and back up catcher Tony Cruz (who wasn't used for fear of leaving the Cardinals exposed with no catcher. That left the Birds to face one of five available lefties from San Francisco with left handed hitters Adron Chambers, Skip Schumaker and Carpenter. It seems that the front office was far too optimistic that Lance Berkman would be able to come back and make an impact after he spent the vast majority of the season fighting knee problems.