The St. Louis Cardinals accomplished incredible things in 2015.
They eclipsed the 100 win mark despite suffering several seasons worth of injuries in one campaign. They held on to win the National League Central despite the fact that the second and third-best regular season teams in all of baseball resided in the same division. And they welcomed several young players to the core of the club.
But, in the end, they lost three of four playoff games to wash out early and leave players, management and fans with a lingering feeling of disappointment and frustration as we all head into the long winter.
Here’s a look at how they performed.
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4) Catcher Yadier Molina: Yadi had his worst season at the plate, likely due to the lingering affects of a thumb injury that caused him to have off-season surgery. While he wasn’t the obvious impact player at the plate he was from 2008-10 when he was cracking double digit home runs and hitting well over .300, he was still the rock of the pitching staff behind the dish. Molina deserves a significant chunk of credit for guiding the pitching staff to the best ERA in the majors. The Cardinals pay Molina for his defense and game management. Would it have been great if he hit better? Sure. But he performed 95 percent of his job description exceptionally well. Grade: A-
7) Outfielder Matt Holliday: Holliday was one of the best hitters for average in baseball during the first few weeks of the season. But his power stroke was conspicuously absent. Many expected the Cardinals third-place hitter to come on with a barrage of homers in the second half after the weather warmed up like he did in 2014. Unfortunately, a pair of quad injuries never allowed him the chance. Holliday tore the cover off the ball in between injuries. But he couldn’t get in gear when he came back the second time at the end of the season. Grade: Incomplete.
8) Outfielder Peter Bourjos: Never has a Cardinals player been so polarizing. Bourjos had more than his fair share of supporters who complained his inconsistent playing time was responsible for his .231 average with four homers in 2014. Besides one good week and a half early in the season, Bourjos didn’t do anything all year at the plate, compiling a .200 average and .290 on base percentage. To make matters worse, Bourjos’ role as a defensive replacement in the outfield and a pinch runner was reduced when he proved to be amazingly untalented at stealing bases, getting thrown out in eight of 13 tries. Can we finally put this guy behind us? Grade: F
12) Utility player Mark Reynolds: During the first few weeks of the season Reynolds performed fabulously in his intended role as a utility player and powerful bench bat. I was impressed by his defensive abilities at the infield and outfield corners. While he never hit for average and struck out a ton, that’s what his reputation told us to expect. Reynolds was over-exposed when he was forced by injuries to become a starter. But I tip my cap to him for continuing to answer the bell whenever asked. He, by all accounts, was very popular in the clubhouse for his effort and his attitude. I’ve got to grade down a little because of his .230 average and strikeouts in more than a quarter of his plate appearances. But let’s keep this in context of his planned role: Grade: B
13) Third baseman Matt Carpenter: It was something of an odd season for Carpenter, interrupted by a mysterious bout of “extreme fatigue” that kept him out of several games early in the season. Carpenter. He hit 46 points less than he did two years ago, tying his .272 mark from 2014. But he increased his 2014 home run total from eight to 18. Carpenter, who struggled in batting slots besides the leadoff spot, saw his on-base percentage drop 10 points to .365. But his slugging percentage shyrocketed from .375 to 505. Carp led MLB in doubles with 44 but struck out a career high 151 times, 40 more than his closest total. Carpenter was streakier than usual. But I account his decreased batting average at least in part to a request by the team to try to hit for more power. Grade: A-
15) Outfielder Randal Grichuk: While a pair of injuries marred his season, Grichuk showed his offensive potential by carrying the team after Matt Holliday was injured the second time — until a bad elbow kept him off the field down the stretch. Grichuk hit 17 homers in only 323 at-bats with 23 doubles and seven triples to demonstrate his unique blend of power and speed. I’d like to see Grichuk get a chance in 2016 to replace his numbersake Jim Edmonds as St. Louis’ centerfielder with power. He needs to improve his plate discipline and cut down the strikeouts. But that’s something I think he has the ability to do. Grade A-
16) Second baseman Kolten Wong: Wong is an immensely talented player. He’s got a great mix of speed and power, especially for a little guy. But he can drive you nuts with his inability to adapt to the situation and make the smart play. It seems like he’s ALWAYS trying to hit a home run, no matter the game situation. That’s great when the ball flies over the boards. But Wong hit only 11 homers all season. How many opposite field hits did he give up when the opposition began to employ defensive shifts against him because of his refusal to hit to all fields. This isn’t a plodding slugger who would clog up the bases with a bunt toward vacant third base. This is a guy fully capable of smacking a double to left field or left center as well as bunting his way on and then stealing second. The other thing about Wong that drives me nuts is his ability to screw up the routine play. He’ll let a three hop grounder go between his legs or throw away a relay being too casual — then make the spectacular diving play when we least expect it. In my book that’s due to a lack of focus. Wong has been around too long to make silly mistakes. He needs to work on becoming a more complete player. He could be a super star if he really applied himself. But a .272 average with a .321 on base percentage and a .386 slugging percentage isn’t good enough for his talent level. Grade: C+
18) Pitcher Carlos Martinez: He made huge strides in 2015, learning to control his emotions and keep his composure much better than in the past. Besides a late season blow up with an umpire in Chicago, he seemed like an entirely different guy. Even in that game, he managed to reel things back in and regain control. If not for his shoulder injury, he could have been a major difference maker in the playoffs. Grade: A
19) Outfielder Jon Jay: He probably ought to get an incomplete because, despite his pronouncement that he had recovered from off-season wrist surgery in time for the start of the season, Jay just wasn’t the hitter in 2015 that he was in previous years. A .295 career batter with a .359 on-base percentage before 2015, he was a .210 batter with a .306 on-base percentage in the recently-completed season. Grade: D
21) First baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss: A trade deadline acquisition, Moss struggled mightily after he arrived in St. Louis. But he got his feet under him, eventually, at hit a respectable .250 with four homers while contributing only eight RBIs. Moss said he would like to come back in 2016. But he’d have to take a significant pay cut to do so, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen. At least not willingly. Grade: C
22) Outfielder Jason Heyward: He started out slowly, as is his tradition. But when the weather warms up, Heyward warms up and he didn’t disappoint. Heyward played in 154 games, had his best season — by far — in batting average at .293 and had 50 extra base hits. He also led the Cardinals with 23 stolen bases in 26 tries and played Gold Glove defense. In many ways, he was the Cardinals’ spark plug both at the plate and in the field. I hope he comes back for the next several seasons. In my book, he was the team’s MVP. Grade: A
26) Manager Mike Matheny: His critics say that he’s a bad handler of the bullpen and a poor tactician. His supporters say he can’t be that bad if he led the Cardinals to the playoffs - again - in his fourth season at the helm. There is no doubt Matheny motivates the Cardinals to play for him and that he gets results, regardless of how people feel about his methods. If I have a gripe it’s how Matheny handled the starters. Michael Wacha was terrible the last month of the season after a great first three-quarters of the year and Carlos Martinez got hurt right at the end. Could this have been avoided if Matheny didn’t double the 2014 workload of two of his most talented - and fragile - starters? Would it have made a difference if he let Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons take on a couple of their starts in the middle of the season or if he limited their innings and pitch count for a while? It’s impossible to say. People say Matheny was out-managed by Joe Maddon in the playoffs. But it seemed to me that his players didn’t perform. Was it his fault Jaime Garcia gave up five unearned runs because of a pair of fielding errors in game 2? Was it his fault that the bullpen couldn’t get anybody out in games three and four? At some point the players have to perform. Grade: B+
27) Shortstop Jhonny Peralta: He was asked to do much more than he originally bargained for in 2015, batting cleanup for much of the season when Holliday and Matt Adams were injured. Peralta carried the team in the first half, hitting .298 with 13 homers and 46 RBIs. But he disappeared in the second half with a .243 average, four homers and 25 batted in. Still solid if not spectacular on defense. Grade: B
31) Pitcher Lance Lynn: He had his worst win total, 12, in his four years as a starter but his second-best ERA, 3.03. While his baseball card numbers were only slightly worse in the second half than they were before the All-Star Game, Lynn’s strikeouts to walks ratio changed dramatically. He struck out 102 and walked 32 in 96 innings before the break to hold opposing hitters to a .311 on-base percentage. That’s a 3.19/1 ratio. In 79 innings in the second half he struck out 65 and walked 36 to allow opponents to get on base at a .353 clip, a 1.81 hits to walks ratio. He allowed hitters to bat .249 and slug .355 in the first half and hit .268 with a .406 slugging percentage in the second half. Fans complain he throws too many fastballs. But no one seems to mind that John Lackey throws 85 percent fastballs. Grade: B
32) First Baseman Matt Adams: Adams managed 5 homers and a .240 average in a season ruined by a major quad injury. He surprised everyone by coming back early and getting a few plate appearances at the end of the season. But he couldn’t get healthy enough to convince the team he deserved a spot on the playoff roster. His second disappointing year in a row — and the emergency of Stephen Piscotty — has clouded Adams’ future with the ball club. Grade: Incompete
33) Relief pitcher Carlos Villanueva: He’s a difficult one to grade. Villanueva put up respectable numbers with a 4-3 record and a 2.95 ERA. But it seemed like every time he pitched was a matter of last resort. Villanueva was limited almost exclusively to mop up or emergency duties making very few appearances when the game was in doubt. Even when the bullpen was toasted after heavy use. I was surprised when he made the roster after spring training and surprised again when he made the playoff roster. But the Cardinals were, apparently, very pleased with his efforts and there is talk he’ll have a chance to come back in 2016. Grade: B
35) Infielder Greg Garcia: I like his bat. I don’t love it. But I like it. His glove? Not a fan. Garcia’s inability to field is the main reason the Cardinals kept hitless wonder Pete Kozma on the roster all year. He batted .240 with two homers and four RBIs. Grade: C-
36) Reliever Randy Choate: He was paid handsomely to get lefty hitters out. If he was paid to walk the only batter he faced or give up two-strike hits, I’d say he’s worth the cost. Didn’t make the playoff roster after allowing opposing hitters to rack up a .444 on base percentage against him over the last month. If he earned a C in the course of the season, he definitely flunked his filed exam. NEXT! Grade: F
37) Reliever Matt Belisle: Incomplete
38) Infielder Pete Kozma: He looked like a star in spring training, slapping the ball around the outfield, running wild on the bases and showing the ability to play every position except catcher. Little did we know the reason he played so much was less foreshadowing about what would happen during the season and more to make up for the fact he’d barely play at all. Kozma did his job of serving as a multi-position insurance policy. But you can’t carry 12 pitchers — or 13 for that matter — and have a guy on the bench you can’t get into the game because he can’t hit a lick. Grade: D
40) Reliever Mitch Harris: A spring training feel good story, Harris made the roster in a remarkable comeback after completing his service to Navy. He was OK. As far as his future goes, I’d like to say that I am very appreciative of his service to his country and wish him well. Grade: C
41) Pitcher John Lackey: What a bargain. Thanks to a clause in his Red Sox contract, the Redbirds got a year of Lackey at near the major league minimum plus a few minor incentives. In return, the club got 13 wins and a veteran presence. Lackey was durable and strong when the team needed him to be its ace by default. Grade: A-
44) Closer Trevor Rosenthal: He saved 48 games and had an ERA under 2.00 for most of the season — until a late rough patch pushed it up to 2.10. Struck out 83 and walked 25 in 68 2/3 innings. The disturbing part about his numbers isn’t the free passes, it’s that Rosenthal has become more hittable the last couple of years. In 2014 he allowed 57 safeties in 70 1/3 innings. In 2015 he allowed 62 hits in 68 innings. Rosenthal seemed worn out at the end of the year — and it sapped his confidence — despite the fact that he threw less innings than the previous two years. Grade: A-
46) Reliever Kevin Siegrist: His record-setting 2013 season was followed by an injury-riddled 2014. But Siegrist was dominant again in 2015 with a 7-1 record, 2.17 ERA and nearly a 3:1 strikeouts to walks ratio. He appeared in an amazing half of the Redbirds’ regular season games with 53 hits allowed i 74 2/3 innings pitched. He also chipped in six saves. Grade: A
48) Catcher Tony Cruz: Like Pete Kozma, he’s a backup who doesn’t get much playing time. A defensive specialist not known for his bat. But Cruz, despite a sub-.200 batting average, is a guy who performs well when pressed into service. He did a great job of replacing starter Molina when Yadi injured his thumb late in the year. Would more offensive production be nice? Sure. But how many teams have a Yogi Berra riding the pine? Grade: B
50) Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright: He missed nearly the entire season due to an Achilles injury. On the bright side, he came back in half the expected recovery time and showed he is still a fully-capable pitcher. That’s no small accomplishment because that sort of injury can be a career ending thing. Hopefully, Wainwright will be 100 percent in 2016 and a contender for a Cy Young Award. Grade: Incomplete
52) Starting pitcher Michael Wacha: A shoulder blade injury clouded Wacha’s future in 2014. But he was both remarkable and durable in 2015 with a 17-7 record in 30 starts. Not surprisingly, Wacha wore down late in the season, not used to throwing that many innings after being limited to 107 the year before. But I’d say, even with the late fade in mind, he met or surpassed all reasonable expectation. Grade: A
53) Reliever Jordan Walden: A promising start was derailed by what was explained to be a minor injury. Now we know its a serious shoulder problem and its seriously in doubt as to whether Walden will be able to contribute in 2016. Grade: Incomplete
54) Starting Pitcher Jaime Garcia: Who would have expected a solid season from a guy who hasn’t been healthy since 2011? But Garcia made 20 starts, winning 10 games with a 2.43 ERA. He was the number two starter in the playoffs. But that ended miserably with Garcia’s fielding error that led to five unearned runs. He seemed to suffer a total meltdown and was removed from the game, although the Cardinals tried to explain away his problem as the result of a stomach issue. Grade: B
55) Outfielder Stephen Piscotty: A rare Cardinals prospect who was UNDERsold. Piscotty was knocked as a guy who didn’t have enough power to be a major league corner outfielder. He carried the offense upon arrival from the minors with a .305 batting average, 7 homers and 39 RBIs in 233 at-bats. He also racked up 15 doubles and four triples. Some St. Louis fans are calling for Piscotty to displace veteran slugger Holliday in the third spot in the batting order. I don’t know about that. But he certainly seems ready to contribute in the big leagues. Grade: A
60) Outfielder Tommy Pham: It’s been a long time coming for the 27-year-old outfielder. He had only two plate appearances prior to 2015. But once he was called up this season, he proved he has the talent to play at the highest level of baseball. Pham batted .268 but opened eyes with five homers, five triples and seven doubles. He stole two bases in two attempts. Is there any reason that Bourjos deserves an extra outfielder spot over Pham in 2016? I don’t think so. If his average was a little higher and he can even out his 2:1 strikeouts to walks ratio, he’d get the highest score. Grade: A-
66) Pitcher Tim Cooney: He was 1-0 with a 6 starts for the Cardinals early in the season. He struck out 29 in 31 1/3 innings and shows promise as a back end of the rotation starter or a reliever if needed in 2016. Grade: B
70) Pitcher Tyler Lyons: Lyons was surprisingly passed over for Cooney when the Redbirds needed injury coverage early in the year. But he finished strong with a 3-1 record and 3.75 ERA in the big leagues. His most impressive start was the NL Central clincher over the Pittsburgh Pirates in which he allowed four hits and no walks while striking out five over seven innings. Lyons earned a job in the bullpen for playoffs. Grade B