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R.I.P., 2012 Cardinals

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer

The reigning-champion Cardinals finally gave up the 2012 ghost with their Game-7 loss to the Giants in the NLCS. Let us remember and mourn them.

What went right

The Cardinals scored runs -- lots and lots of runs in the context of their pitcher-friendly home park. The St. Louis offense ranked second in the NL in runs scored, first in hits, first in OBP and third in OPS. Allen Craig tallied 57 extra-base hits in 119 games. Matt Holliday turned in a Matt Holliday season (that's very much a compliment). Free-agent bargain Carlos Beltran ranked fifth in the NL in homers, and Yadier Molina is in the running for NL MVP. For the first time in franchise history, five players tallied 20 or more homers in the same season.

Kyle Lohse pitched like an ace headed into his walk year: 211.0 IP, 2.86 ERA. Lance Lynn enjoyed a strong first half, and Adam Wainwright enjoyed a strong second half. Every pitcher who made a start for the Cardinals in 2012 had a sub-4.00 ERA. In the bullpen, Mitchell Boggs established himself as one of the league's top right-handed setup men, and Jason Motte turned in another fine season as closer. Was there a more valuable bench player in baseball than Matt Carpenter? That question can credibly be asked. On other Carpenter fronts, Chris made an unlikely (and successful) late-season return to the mound.

Bringing it all together, in all of baseball just the Yankees and Nationals had better run differentials than the Cards' mark of +117. Most of all, the Cardinal made it within one game of returning to the World Series.

More playoff coverage
NLCS: Cardinals vs. Giants
ALCS: Tigers vs. Yankees

What went wrong

Members of the bullpen not named "Motte" or "Boggs" largely struggled (at least until Edward Mujica came along). Lance Berkman, such a fulcrum in 2011, managed just 97 plate appearances. Tyler Greene was finally given a meaningful opportunity, and he responded by playing himself out of town. Rafael Furcal faded badly after a hot start to the season and then went down with a severe elbow injury. Second base was a trouble position all year, and manager Mike Matheny was too reliant upon one-run strategies considering the strengths of his offense. Remember that run differential praised above? The Cardinals underperformed it by five full games.

And for the fourth time in franchise history, they blew a 3-1 lead in the postseason series.

MVP: Molina, without question. Not only did he soldier on as the best defensive catcher on the planet, but he also put up a slash line of .315/.373/.501 with a career-high 22 homers and a career-high 12 steals.

LVP: Daniel Descalso has his uses on a major-league roster, but he's stretched as a regular. As the primary second baseman, he hit .227/.303/.324 on the year, while the average MLBer at the position batted .257/.318/.383.

MLB free agents to be: SP Kyle Lohse, 1B Lance Berkman

Offseason gameplan

As implied by the list of two names above, the Cardinals must determine whether to re-sign
Lohse. Given that he pitched well above career norms this season and just turned 34, the smart play is probably to let him walk. GM John Mozeliak will need to reinforce the back of the rotation and perhaps rethink the middle-relief corps. A quality middle infielder who can man both positions and produce against right-handed pitching should also be on the list.

Ridiculously premature prediction

Allen Craig finishes in the top 10 of the NL MVP balloting, Shelby Miller contends for Rookie-of-the-Year honors and Adam Wainwright returns to ace form. Cardinals win the NL Central.

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