During the off-season, Lance Berkman had been added as a free agent to play right field and Ryan Theriot was acquired to be the everyday shortstop. Veteran complimentary players, including catcher Gerald Laird, infielder Nick Punto and left-handed reliever Brian Tallet, were signed.
The year took some dramatic turns early on. Despite a number of injuries, the Cardinals remained in the division battle until August, when the revamped Milwaukee Brewers pulled away. In a stirring comeback coupled with an Atlanta collapse, the Cardinals passed the Braves to take the wild card on the final day of the regular season.
In the National League Division Series, the underdog Cardinals defeated Philadelphia in five games before eliminating NL Central champ Milwaukee in the Championship Series, four games to two. In a very evenly-matched World Series, the Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers in seven games for the 2011 World Championship.
Before February was out and a single spring game had been played, the club faced news that could have destroyed their resolve. The right elbow of Adam Wainwright, which had been sore at the end of the 2010 season, did not stand up to pitching in camp. He required Tommy John surgery, which ended his season before it began.
Punto, signed in January, also had a rough start. During the first week of workouts, he required surgery for a sports hernia, a problem that was likely a prior condition.
|Pujols talks about not talking contract in Jupiter|
On the field, the club had a rare sub-.500 spring, 14-16 (.467). Berkman batted just .182 and drove in only three runs. Despite hitting .221, Jon Jay tied Pujols for the club's spring lead with 14 RBI. .300-plus Florida hitters included Matt Holliday, Skip Schumaker, Allen Craig, Daniel Descalso and camp surprise Matt Carpenter, who did not make the team.
Jaime Garcia (6.26 ERA) and Chris Carpenter (5.19) had some rough spring outings, as did reliever Jason Motte (9.64). Kyle Lohse pitched well (1.88) as did Bryan Augenstein (0.77). The latter beat out Fernando Salas (0.73) for the last relief spot.
As expected, Kyle McClellan (0.78 ERA) won out in the starting competition to fill Wainwright's rotation slot. Non-roster invitee, 40-year-old Miguel Batista (1.59 ERA), claimed a seat in the bullpen. Reserves Descalso, Jay and Tyler Greene each made their first season-opening MLB roster.
The Cardinals stumbled on opening day in 11 innings versus San Diego as Ryan Franklin blew the save. The closer absorbed two defeats and blew three more saves through game 16 as the Cards lost their first three series. (Removed from the closer's job, Franklin's appearances dwindled over time until his June 29 release.)
After homering and driving in two on opening day, Matt Holliday missed the next seven games as the result of his April 1 appendectomy. Skip Schumaker (right triceps strain) and Allen Craig (left groin strain) logged first-month DL time. In fact, Schumaker did not return until May 23.
During a mid-month series in Los Angeles, relievers Augenstein and Tallet were both injured. Their replacements, called up from Memphis, proved most valuable to the team, Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas.
Mitchell Boggs logged three saves at home in late April but lost the job after a meltdown in Houston on April 26. Sanchez held the job briefly before Salas took over, and much later, Motte.
Hot players in the early going included Berkman and Garcia. The right fielder was NL Player of the Week twice and the left-handed starting pitcher once during the season's first four weeks.
Following Franklin's last blown save, the Cards went 8-3 to conclude the month. They finished April at 16-11, with a two-game division lead.
|Freese: Injured on May 1|
The month began poorly. On the 1st, David Freese was hit by a pitch and sustained a broken left hand. It did not end there. On the 18th, Punto began his second DL stint due to a right forearm strain. Both would be out until late June.
La Russa had to take a leave from the club while on the road from May 10-15 after having ignored the affects of shingles. His right eye was seriously swollen and there was risk of permanent damage if not addressed.
Laird broke his right index finger and went on the 15-day disabled list on the 23rd. It was the same day Pujols ended his career-long 105 at-bat homerless streak. Colby Rasmus also had a 116 at-bat streak without a long ball. Holliday missed another week late in the month due to a recurrence of his quad strain.
In an odd move, Boggs was optioned to Memphis on May 23 to become a starter and work on his secondary pitches. After three weeks in exile, he returned to St. Louis' bullpen.
Lohse was the early pitching leader, with seven wins and nine quality starts through the end of May. Salas was settling in as closer, already nine-for-nine in saves.
After a 17-12 month, the Cardinals were 10 games over .500 and held a lead in the NL Central of 2.5 games. Highlights included a 4-0 homestand against Philadelphia and Houston and a 6-3 road trip to Kansas City, San Diego and Colorado.
It was a month of injuries upon injuries for the Cardinals. As June began, both Holliday (left quad strain) and McClellan (left hip flexor strain) went onto the DL. Both would miss the minimum, though Holliday had been limited for at least two weeks prior.
Craig suffered a fractured right kneecap when making a sliding catch in foul territory in Houston. The outfielder went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 8. Craig missed over two months and his fill-in role at second base ended upon his August 10 return to action.
Sanchez was placed on the 15-day DL retroactive to June 13 with what was called at the time a "mild right shoulder strain." His original late July estimated return ended up extending well into September. It probably cost him a shot at post-season action.
Rasmus drove in six runs with a grand slam and a triple against the Giants on the second. It tied for the third-best RBI game in the league in 2011. Over the previous three weeks, the centerfielder also had a five-walk game and another game in which he had four hits, including two triples. On the other hand, Rasmus went hitless in 12 of 16 games as his average dropped more than 30 points and he had problems running down or judging balls that were near the wall.
|Lynn: Down with an oblique injury|
The Cardinals struggled in what would be their worst month, getting swept in series by the Brewers, Nationals and Blue Jays during a 3-12 stretch. Despite the starters managing just four wins among them from June 3rd through the 29th, the team logged an 11-15 June record. After falling as far as three games out of the divisional lead, the Cards ended the month in a tie at the top in a race that no one seized.
The Cards went into the All-Star break with a 49-43 record, still deadlocked at the top of the Central. They lost 4-of-5 coming out of the break and finished the month at 13-13, 2.5 games back in the division.
Despite pitching well, Carpenter lacked run support during the first half. He won just four of 19 starts. Coming out of the break, the Cardinals announced a contract extension with left-hander Garcia for four more seasons and with options for possibly two more.
Berkman was voted into the All-Star Game as a starting outfielder. Holliday and Molina were named by the players as reserves, with the former also participating in the Home Run Derby. Pujols was left off the team for only the second time in 11 seasons. He was batting .279 with 17 home runs and 45 RBI at the time rosters were announced.
The move helped shore up the Cardinals' bullpen with the additional benefit of moving a player who could apparently not coexist with La Russa. Some might argue as to which were the primary and secondary motivations of the trade. Rasmus, talented but inconsistent, did not immediately improve his hitting after the trade. None of the three pitchers Toronto received remained with their new organization by the end of the year.
The deal certainly proved to be a good move in the short term, as all three new pitchers contributed to St. Louis' playoff push. Jackson moved into the rotation in place of McClellan, who had gone winless for more than two months, and Jay became the every-day starter in centerfield. Rzepczynski took over as the primary lefty, later joined by free-agent signee Arthur Rhodes on August 11 after the latter was released by Texas.
At least as importantly, the departures of the ineffective veterans Franklin, Miller and Tallet helped open the door for homegrown relievers Salas, Lynn, Boggs, Sanchez and Motte to take on more prominent roles.
Punto suffered a strained left oblique muscle on the 18th and soon returned to the DL for the third time. He was not activated until September.
Veteran shortstop Rafael Furcal was acquired from the Dodgers on the 31st for Double-A outfielder Alex Castellanos. Furcal's addition bumped Ryan Theriot into a reserve role. It both strengthened the defense up the middle and gave the Cards a more proven leadoff hitter.
Despite a 15-13 month by the Cardinals, they had expected to do better. The club lost both road and home series to the surging Brewers and dropped consecutive series to three clubs with losing records at the time, Pittsburgh, the Cubs and the Dodgers. Schumaker made his professional pitching debut during one Dodgers blowout.
As the month neared its end, Milwaukee pulled ahead into a commanding lead of 10.5 games in the Central. That same week, the Cardinals were third in the wild card race, 10.5 games behind Atlanta. According to coolstandings.com, the Cardinals' odds of making the post-season had dropped to a low of 1.1 percent. Presenting to a group of 200 boosters, general manager John Mozeliak offered what appeared to be a concession.
"As a whole, we were about as down as you could be," Mozeliak recalled to the Washington Post. "I get up to speak, and it was sort of like a conciliatory speech: ‘Sorry, guys, about the season.' It was like apologetic. It was more like, ‘A lot of things that we tried to plan for didn't go right.'... I [was] trying to have that hint of optimism, but I was thinking about 2012."
Mozeliak said about the Brewers: "I compliment them and what they've done. But the reality is that we just didn't play good baseball here."
There had been discussions about the Cardinals becoming sellers – including a waiver trade of Berkman to the Texas Rangers, but the right-fielder made it clear he would not consider returning in 2012 if that occurred. In the midst of their September comeback, the club re-signed him for next season. Of course, the two clubs would later meet in the World Series.
|Molina and Drake|
In a signal of things to come, after 29 consecutive outings without having allowed an earned run, Motte picked up his first save of the season on the 29th. He was the eighth Cardinal to log a save in 2011 and held the job for the remainder of the season, despite La Russa never naming him the official closer.
At the end of the month, pitching coach Dave Duncan left the team to be with his ailing wife, not to return until the final game of the regular season.
When things looked bleakest, the Cardinals played their very best baseball of 2011. The club went 18-8 to close out the regular season, including wins in their final seven series.
The lineup's big bats helped power the September run. Berkman ranked fourth in the NL in batting during the month (.374), while Pujols was ninth (.355). Pujols tied for fourth with 20 RBI and he and Allen Craig tied for fifth with five home runs each.
On September 12, the Cardinals announced Carpenter agreed to a two-year, $21 million contract extension to cover the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Triple-A call-ups in late August and early September included pitchers Brandon Dickson and Maikel Cleto, catcher Tony Cruz, infielder Tyler Greene and outfielders Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers. Ironically, the only one of the group with no prior MLB experience, Chambers, earned a spot on the NLDS roster with his September play.
Regular season summary
The Cardinals completed their regular season with a 90-72 mark, finishing second in the NL Central, six games behind Milwaukee. They ended one game ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the wild card race.
It was only the Cardinals' second wild card ever. They tied Houston in 2001, but the Astros were awarded the division crown with the Cards entering the post-season as the wild card.
Just three prior times in history did a team overcome a wild card deficit of ten or more games to reach the post-season as did the 2011 Cardinals. The others were the 2003 Marlins and 2005 Astros (11.5 games each) and the 2001 A's (10 games).
The Cardinals logged an identical 45-36 record at Busch Stadium and on the road. Against the three NL division winners during the regular season, St. Louis went a combined 19-15 (6-3 vs. Philadelphia, 9-9 vs. Milwaukee, 4-3 vs. Arizona). They were just 8-13 in extra inning contests.
The Cardinals' longest winning streak of the season was only five games, which they achieved from September 6-11. Their longest losing skid was seven consecutive contests, which occurred from June 10-17.
Team statistical summary
In the regular season, the Cardinals topped the NL in hitting (.273) for the first time since 2008. They led the league in on-base percentage (.341) for the first time since 2003. The Cardinals had a +70 run-scored differential (762-692), third best in the NL. On the other side of the coin, The Cardinals grounded into an NL single-season record 169 double plays.
On the pitching side, the Cards finished eighth in the 16-team league in ERA at 3.74. After being first in the league in 2010, the starters dropped to eighth at 3.81 while the relievers were 11th at 3.73. The pen had 26 blown saves in 74 opportunities for their lowest conversion percentage (64.9%) since 2008. Only three NL teams had fewer strikeouts than the Cards but only three staffs issued fewer walks, also.
In fielding percentage, based on errors and chances, the Cardinals were 12th in the league. In terms of raw errors, only the Cubs committed more than the Cards' 116.
2011 National League Comeback Player of the Year Berkman had his first 30-home run season since 2007 after hitting just 14 in 2010. 145 games played was his highest since 2008. Berkman ranked among National League leaders in home runs (31, tied for ninth), RBI (94, tied for 11th), walks (92, fourth), slugging (.547, fifth) and on-base percentage (.412, third).
Though he fell just short of his record-extending 11th consecutive season of a .300 average, 30 home runs and 100 RBI (.299/37/99), Pujols continued to lead the offense. In the NL, he ranked third in home runs, tied for third in runs scored (105), seventh in RBI, ninth in hits (173) and seventh in slugging (.541). Starting on August 11 and running through September 25, Pujols compiled a 2011 MLB-best 40-game on-base streak.
Molina assembled the best offensive year of his career, leading the team in batting at .305, eighth in the NL. It was the first time since 2001, Pujols' rookie year, that Albert did not lead the team in that category. Molina was first among NL catchers in average and hits (145), was second in doubles (32) and third in RBI (65). His 14 home runs is a personal best.
Despite playing in just 124 games, Holliday led the team with 36 doubles. He had a strong first half, with a .995 OPS, but as the injuries piled up, the cleanup hitter slipped to .815 after the break.
Jay and Freese both hit 10 home runs and batted .297. Craig hit 11 long balls in just 200 at-bats and posted a .315 average. Though he had just 124 plate appearances, Greene led the team with 11 stolen bases and was not caught.
Five pitchers on the Cardinals' staff recorded more than 10 wins - six if you count Jackson, who earned seven of his 12 with the Chicago White Sox. Carpenter had 11, McClellan and Jake Westbrook registered 12 each, Garcia won 13 and Lohse had a team-best 14.
Lohse logged the lowest ERA among the starters at 3.39, closely followed by Carpenter (3.45), Garcia (3.56) and Jackson (3.58). Carpenter was again the workhorse. At 237 1/3 regular-season innings, he was the only one that threw over 200 innings. He also led the staff with 191 strikeouts.
Salas collected 24 saves, followed by Motte with nine. Others include Sanchez with five, Boggs with four, Dotel two, and Franklin, Miller and Lynn with one save each.
Sanchez led the relievers with a 1.80 ERA. Bullpenners with at least a strikeout per inning were Salas, Lynn, Sanchez, Dotel and Rzepczynski. It is worth noting again that none of the five began the season with the Cardinals.
Lineups and batting orders
The most common regular-season lineups and batting orders used by La Russa during the season follow. He utilized 134 different lineups in 162 games. In an indication of the lineup fluidity, Molina appeared the most often in both the number six and seven spots.
The Cardinals drew a total of 3,093,954 during the regular season, or an average of 38,197. That ranked third-best in the NL. St. Louis' drop of 6.3 percent from 2010 was the team's fourth consecutive year of declining attendance. Overall, MLB attendance was up 0.5 percent in 2011.
October - NLDS
The best-of-five National League Division Series began with a pair in Philadelphia, the team with MLB's best regular season record. The Cards lost a three-run lead in Game 1 behind Kyle Lohse and fell 11-6. It was the home club squandering a four-run edge in Game 2 as the Cards came back for a 5-4 win despite Chris Carpenter pitching ineffectively on three days rest.
Having taken away the home field advantage, St. Louis returned home for Game 3. The Phils took back the high ground as Ben Francisco's three-run home run off Jaime Garcia powered them to a 3-2 win. The Cardinals held off elimination in Game 4 as David Freese plated four in the 5-3 St. Louis victory.
|Carpenter celebrates again|
The Cards were at full strength in the NLDS with one notable exception. Holliday was active, but a non-factor in the first three games, reduced to pinch hitting because of a finger injury.
October - NLCS
Moving into the League Championship Series against the NL Central champion Brewers, the Cardinals deactivated second baseman Skip Schumaker and pitcher Jake Westbrook, replacing them with Lance Lynn and Kyle McClellan. Schumaker, who batted .600 in the LDS, had suffered an oblique injury.
Games 1 and 2 were in Milwaukee. Jamie Garcia allowed five runs in the fifth which were too much to overcome as the Brewers won the opener, 9-6. Pujols took over in Game 2 with three doubles, a home run and five RBI as St. Louis seized a decisive 12-3 victory.
Returning home to St. Louis, the bullpen was the star in Game 3, as Salas, Lynn, Rzepczynski and Motte handled the final 12 outs flawlessly in a 4-3 Cardinals win. Veteran lefty Randy Wolf won Game 4 for Milwaukee as he worked seven innings, allowing just solo home runs by Holliday and Craig. St. Louis took pivotal Game 5 by a 7-1 score as the Brewers defense committed four of their 10 CS errors. Holliday and Molina had three hits each.
|NLCS award celebration|
Freese hit safely in all six games, batting .545 including three doubles, three home runs, nine RBI and six runs scored. The bullpen carried a heavy load in the series, but responded with a 1.88 ERA (six runs in 28 1/3 innings) while holding Brewers hitters to a collective .155 batting average.
October – World Series
The Cardinals were again the underdog, this time to the American League Champion Texas Rangers, back in the Series for a second consecutive year.
In Game 1, pinch hitter Allen Craig broke a 2-2 tie with a two-out, run-scoring single in the sixth that made Chris Carpenter a winner. Carp allowed two runs over six innings and Jason Motte picked up the save.
St. Louis yielded the home field advantage upon losing Game 2 when the Rangers scored two in the ninth to erase a 1-0 Cardinals lead. The runs were charged against Motte with the key play an Ian Kinsler stolen base. Jaime Garcia threw seven shutout innings in a no-decision.
|Pujols took over Game 3|
Though he walked seven, starter Edwin Jackson held on for 6 1/3 innings in Game 4, allowing just one run. However, he departed with two on base. Both scored as Mike Napoli launched Mitchell Boggs' first pitch deep into left field for a 4-0 lead that the Rangers held.
In the pivotal Game 5, the Cardinals stranded baserunner after baserunner, 12 in total, and ultimately fell by a 4-2 score when Marc Rzepczynski allowed a two-run double by Napoli in the eighth inning. Several key mix-ups on Craig-Pujols hit and runs and wrong pitchers warming up in the bullpen contributed to the defeat.
Returning home for must-win Game 6, the Cardinals showed amazing resiliency despite uneven play. The defense committed three early errors with the result two unearned runs for Texas. Still, despite having just three hits through seven innings, the Cardinals had pulled even three times before giving up the lead run in the top of the next inning every time. Back-to-back home runs off Lance Lynn in the seventh moved Texas ahead once again.
With the Cards down to their final strike in the ninth, Freese's two-run triple sent the game into extra innings. Josh Hamilton's two-run home run off Motte in the 10th powered the Rangers to a 9-7 lead. The Cards answered with RBIs from Theriot and Berkman to move the game into the 11th. The latter again occurred with two strikes and two out. It was the first time in World Series history that a team came back twice from a two or more run deficit in the ninth inning and later.
A one-day rain delay prior to Game 6 allowed the Cardinals to bring Chris Carpenter back for Game 7 on three days rest. The ace allowed two first-inning runs before tossing five scoreless frames. Freese tied the game in the bottom of the first before Allen Craig's third-inning solo home run gave the Cards the lead to stay. St. Louis won their 11th World Series title by winning Game 7 by a 6-2 score.
Freese was named Series MVP after batting .348 (8-for-23) with three doubles, a triple, home run, seven RBI and four runs scored. During the post-season, he was 9-for-19 (.474) with runners in scoring position, including seven extra-base hits. Freese set all-time MLB post-season marks in RBI with 21, extra-base hits with 14 and total bases with 50 and tied for the most post-season doubles ever with eight and hits with 25.
Yadier Molina set a Cardinals World Series record with nine RBI. Though he had only one hit outside of Game 3 and batted .240 in the Series, Pujols had six RBI and joined Craig with three home runs. Lance Berkman batted .423 in the Series, drove in five and scored a team-high nine times.
Carpenter made three World Series starts, pitching 19 innings. He won two games, including Game 7, and logged a 2.84 ERA. Jaime Garcia did not pick up a win, but allowed just two runs in 10 innings for a 1.80 ERA. The Cardinals pitchers held the Rangers to a collective .243 batting average.
Heading into the off-season, the team's biggest free agent is the most attractive in all of Major League Baseball – Pujols. Whether or not he returns could impact the franchise for the next decade.
The manager's future is also in question, as the Cardinal Nation awaits La Russa's decision to return for a 17th season with St. Louis. (Update: La Russa announced his intent to retire on Monday, October 31. Details here.)
All-in-all, the 2011 Cardinals overcame the early loss of Wainwright and turned what looked like would be a disappointing close to the season into a captivating final-month kick that ended with a playoff berth and the unexpected World Series championship.
Many expected 2012 would be La Russa's managerial swan song after 33 prior seasons. The 67-year-old finished third on the MLB all-time games-managed list with 2,728. John McGraw remains just ahead in second-place at 2,763.
With better health, perhaps some improvement up the middle and in left-handed relief as well as the return of the Wainwright of old, there is no reason to believe the Cardinals cannot again be a serious title contender in 2012. Pujols' re-signing would be the icing on the cake.
There is always a new hill to climb. Despite an NL-best 11 World Championships, the Cardinals have yet to win them in back-to-back seasons.
Note: Link to article with links to all articles about previous award winners across the system club by club, schedule for upcoming announcements as well as 2011 team recaps, much of it exclusively for The Cardinal Nation subscribers. Not yet a subscriber? Join now!
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column on Thursdays at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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