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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinal Nation Blog top stories of 2009 #5: The failed finish

The 2009 St. Louis Cardinals won their division handily, but carried a final-month slump into a quick post-season exit.

    Following the bold acquisition of outfielder Matt Holliday on July 24, the St. Louis Cardinals seemed virtually unstoppable. For the remainder of the regular season, the Cards would win 39 and lose 25 for a winning percentage of .609. They were the first to clinch and their final divisional cushion was a comfortable 7 ½ games. All seemed well.

    Yet in reality, there were two very different periods within that timeframe. From Holliday’s signing through a July in which only one opponent had a winning record at the time, the Cardinals would reach their high-water mark of the season on September 9. At that point, the club was 84-57, 27 games over .500 and 11 ½ games ahead in the division, both season-bests. The Holliday-led Cardinals were 32-11 (.744).

    From there through the end of the regular season, the Cardinals limped home with a 7-14 (.333) mark. The stretch included stinging losses such as the bullpen failure that cost Adam Wainwright his 20th win and likely the National League Cy Young Award. Closer Ryan Franklin, coming off being named the top NL reliever for August and celebrating the signing of a new contract, fell apart, picking up three blown saves and two losses during September.

    As a team, the Cardinals continued a disturbing pattern in 2009, still having not posted a winning September/October finish to the regular season since 2004. In taking the 2006 World Series, they were able to overturn their 12-16 final month as injured players came back online.

    The 2009 club had no such boost entering the National League Division Series against the 95-win Los Angeles Dodgers. Just a few more September victories would have enabled the 91-71 Cardinals to hold home-field advantage instead of the Dodgers.

    Manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan had re-worked their rotation such that their co-aces, Chris Carpenter and Wainwright, would work games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles with 15-game winner Joel Pineiro ready to start game 3 at home.

    Dodgers manager Joe Torre neutralized the Cardinals offense by having his pitchers avoid confronting NL Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols. No one seemed able to pick up the slack. Matt Kemp’s two-run first-inning home run off Carpenter put the Cardinals in a game 1 hole from which they could never crawl out.

    Matt HollidayIn game 2, a tremendous start by Wainwright and the lead were wiped out by Holliday’s crucial error with two outs in the ninth inning when he dropped a ball lost in the Dodger Stadium lights. A Franklin lapse that followed seemed to finish off the Cardinals’ LDS chances.

    The offense continued its listless ways in game 3 at home against Vicente Padilla, a pitcher dumped by the Texas Rangers in August. The Cardinals tallied just one run in the final game of the Dodgers sweep, plating just six in total over the three losses.

    Since the Cardinals clinched the NL Central, they went a total of 1-9, including the post-season. They were swept for the first time ever in NLDS or NLCS play and for only the third time overall in the postseason. The 2009 Cardinals joined the 1928 club that was swept by the Yankees in the World Series as the only teams in franchise history to fail to win a playoff game.

    It was an extremely disappointing finish to what had appeared to be a most promising season.

    Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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