2004 St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Tony La Russa
Regular season record: 105-57 (.648), first in National League Central Division
Won NL Division Series over Los Angeles Dodgers (3-1)
Won NL Championship Series over Houston Astros (4-3)
Lost World Series to Boston Red Sox (4-0)
Staff Comments (individual rankings in parens)
Ray Mileur (12) The Boston Red Sox’ decision to sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920 haunted them for 84 years. They lost the World Series in 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986. Even more painful perhaps, they lost the American League Championship Series in 1988, 1990, 1999 and 2003.
What was the cure for the “Curse of the Bambino?” Answer: the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals.
There were times during the regular season I thought that this could be the best St. Louis team of all-time. The club led the league with 5.28 runs per game, a team .278 batting average, 855 runs scored, 1544 hits and they finished second in the National League with 214 home runs. Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds finished 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively in the MVP voting behind the winner Barry Bonds and Adrian Beltre of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jeff Suppan led the staff with 16 wins, with Chris Carpenter, Matt Morris and Jason Marquis all contributing, winning 15 games each.
The club cruised through the first round of the playoffs against the Dodgers winning three out of four, then edged out the Houston Astros in the National League Championship Series four games to three before losing four straight to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Manager Tony La Russa finished second to Atlanta’s Bobby Cox in the Manager of the Year voting.
The 2004 Cardinals were a team that always seemed to find a way to scratch out a win up until they got to the World Series. Those four straight losses to Boston were hard to swallow and contributed perhaps too much to my ranking them just out of the top ten at #12. I’m convinced this is the best St. Louis team to not win a World Championship.
Rob Rains (7) The highest ranked team in this survey which did not win the World Series. Even though the numbers come out differently, I personally don’t think this team was as good as the other “great” Cardinals team which did not win the Series, the 1985 club.
The biggest difference, and the reason this club came in seventh in my analysis while th 1985 club was 10th, was the 13-game margin of victory over the second place Astros. True the club did win 105 games in the regular season, but the 1985 club won 101 games and only finished three games ahead of the Mets, who won 98. I guarantee that had the 1985 team been at its peak playing in 2004 it would have won by a much bigger margin, and I don’t think the same can be said if the 2004 club played 19 years earlier.
The 1985 Cardinals led the NL in a whopping six offensive categories – runs scored, walks, batting average, on-base percentage and stolen bases. The overall numbers in many of those categories were higher in 2004, but so were the numbers recorded by the pitching staff. It was a different era.
This doesn’t imply that the 2004 club was not a good club …. It easily is the best club of the La Russa era, and only a complete meltdown in the Series against the Red Sox likely kept it from an even higher ranking in this survey.
Jerry Modene (2) Possibly the greatest offensive team in Cardinal history, as this was the season of the “MV3” – Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds (pictured above), each of whom hit at least 34 homers and drove in at least 111 runs (ultimately they combined for 118 home runs and 358 RBI), a total which might have been higher had Rolen not slumped in the second half (after batting as high as .357 as late as June and standing at .339 at the all-star break, Rolen finished at .314).
2004 was notable, too, for the surprise performance of second baseman Tony Womack, who was snatched off the scrapheap and hit .307, and for the emergence of Chris Carpenter, who won 15 games in his first real season with the Cardinals – as well as contributions from new pitchers Jason Marquis (also 15 wins) and Jeff Suppan (16 wins).
Ultimately, the team fell short as Rolen couldn’t get it going in the postseason (except for his justly-remembered homer off Roger Clemens to give the Cards a Game 7 NLCS lead) and Carpenter wasn’t able to pitch at all due to a nerve condition in his pitching arm that shut him down after September 18. Those factors, combined with Boston’s momentum (coming off four straight wins over the Yankees after having been down 0-3 in the ALCS) doomed the Cards.
Brian Walton (6) Despite being swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, these 2004 Cardinals team ranked smack in the middle of the ten World Champion teams based on my scoring system. They scored the most and allowed the fewest runs in all of MLB that season.
Yet they began in a most ordinary fashion, limping into fifth place on May 27 with a 23-22 record. From there, they won 12 of 16 and once they took the NL Central Division lead on June 11, they remained on top, winning 25 of 29 series over the next three months.
Seven top Cardinals were on Tony La Russa’s winningest club in his four decades of managing: pitchers Chris Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen, infielders Albert Pujols, Edgar Renteria and Scott Rolen, plus outfielders Jim Edmonds and Ray Lankford. Four batted .300: Rolen, Pujols, Tony Womack and Edmonds. Renteria, Pujols and Rolen were All-Star Game starters.
The rotation had four 15-game winners, led by Jeff Suppan with 16, and the bullpen contributed 31 wins of their own. Catcher Mike Matheny won his third Gold Glove, but his MLB-record string of errorless games behind the plate ended at 252, accumulated over two years, three days.
Pujols’ 51 doubles rank in a tie for sixth-most in a single St. Louis season and his 46 home runs are fourth-most in a single season in team history. Jim Edmonds’ 42 long balls tied for the seventh-highest total by a Cardinal. Reggie Sanders joined the MV3 with over 20 home runs each with the four tying a franchise record.
The pitching staff missed the NL ERA title by three-thousandths of a point and there were several historical individual performances, too. For example, Carpenter’s strikeout to walk ratio of 4.00 was eighth-best in franchise history. Isringhausen tied the Cardinals record for a single-season with 47 saves.
Pujols took home the NL Championship Series MVP Award after blasting four of his Cardinals postseason best-ever six home runs against the Houston Astros. The one-man wrecking-crew added a .500 batting average and nine RBI in the NLCS.
Key: NR = not ranked
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