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With their 6-1 loss to the Red Sox in Game 6 of the World Series, the Cardinals saw their 2013 season draw to a close -- pennant in hand but trophy just out of reach. Now it is time to see to the grim business of embalming, burying and eulogizing those 2013 Cardinals ...
What went right
Quite a bit. The Cardinals won 97 games, claimed the NL Central crown -- a division that, let us remember, produced three playoff teams -- and locked up top seed in the NL playoff bracket. It was also a broad-based success, as the Cards ranked second in the National League in runs scored and fifth in runs allowed. They also, of course, won the 19th pennant in franchise history.
Yadier Molina played at an MVP level when healthy, and Matt Carpenter enjoyed a stellar season as a freshly minted second baseman (more on that duo in a moment). Adam Wainwright, in his second season removed from Tommy John surgery, positioned himself for a top-three finish in the NL Cy Young balloting. Matt Adams played an invaluable role at numerous points during the season (17 homers in 296 ABs).
Elsewhere, Carlos Beltran had another age-defying power season (24 homers), Matt Holliday was ablaze in the second half (.348/.442/.552 after the break) and wound up posting an OPS+ for the season that's better than his career mark. Shelby Miller authored an outstanding rookie campaign, and 22-year-old Michael Wacha was perhaps the team's best starting pitcher from early September onward.
What went wrong
The World Series, obviously. Otherwise, the rotation was a bit inconsistent down the stretch, Allen Craig's late-season foot injury caused him to miss most of the playoffs, shortstop was unsettled all year (more to come on that front), Edward Mujica ran out of petrol, and Mitchell Boggs was awful before being optioned and then shipped off. Tactically, Mike Matheny's handling of the bullpen was at times highly questionable, particularly against the Red Sox. The Cards were only one game above .500 for June and July.
MVP: Molina and Carpenter. Yes, call it a tie. Molina provided his usual superlative defense behind the plate and also batted a robust .319/.359/.477 with 44 doubles. Save for his time lost to a knee injury, he might have given Andrew McCutchen a serious challenge in the NL MVP balloting. As for Carpenter, he proved capable with the glove in his first season as a second baseman, and he put up an OPS+ of 143 while pacing the majors in hits and doubles and ranking sixth in the bigs in times on base.
LVP: Pete Kozma. While Kozma is an asset with the glove at the vital position of shortstop, the larger reality is that he's a sinkhole in the lineup. This season, Kozma batted .217/.275/.273, while the average major-league shortstop put up a slash line of .255/.308/.373. When you're slugging 100 points below the average shortstop, well …
Gameplan heading into the offseason
Will the Cardinals let Beltran walk? “Almost certainly,” it says here. Adams's ability to pound the ball and Craig's ability to man an outfield corner mean Beltran, despite his impressive 2013, is expendable. That's especially the case once you consider that top prospect Oscar Taveras, an outfielder, is likely to be ready for major-league duty some point in the first half. Elsewhere, there's enough relief in place and under contract to allow Mujica to sign elsewhere. Upgrade at shortstop? It's needed, but in-house candidate Ryan Jackson may merit a look. Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta headline the shortstops available via free agency, but that would be an uncharacteristic approach for GM John Mozeliak, at least of late.
Ridiculously premature prediction for 2014
This is a team well poised for ongoing contention -- in terms of both veterans in place and the log flume of young talent. They'll again win the NL Central, and Wacha will finish in the top 10 in the NL Cy Young voting.