The greatest disappointment of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2012 season occurred in their highest level of play as they fell to the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series in seven games.
After having taken the one-game wild card competition in Atlanta, the Cardinals dispatched the Washington Nationals in their Division Series. In the other NLDS matchup, San Francisco eliminated NL Central champ Cincinnati.
The Cardinals sprinted out to a three games-to-one lead over San Francisco, only to drop pivotal Game 5 at home. Returning to San Francisco, the Cardinals scored just one run in their final two lopsided losses to end the season with a whimper.
LCS Games 1 and 2 were in San Francisco. The Cardinals took a 1-0 lead thanks to two-run home runs from David Freese and Carlos Beltran, as well as 5 1/3 scoreless innings from the bullpen. Jason Motte closed out the 6-4 win to earn his second save of the postseason.
The Giants defeated the Cardinals 7-1 in Game 2 as Ryan Vogelsong allowed just one run in seven innings. Chris Carpenter took the loss, though all four of his fourth-inning runs were unearned following errors by Carpenter and Matt Holliday.
The Cardinals returned home to take Games 3 and 4 and set up a possible elimination Game 5, also in St. Louis.
The big blow in the Cardinals’ 3-1 Game 3 win came in the third inning when Matt Carpenter, brought into the game in the second inning to replace injured Carlos Beltran (left knee strain), blasted a two-run home run off Giants starter Matt Cain. Kyle Lohse allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings to earn the victory. Motte tossed two scoreless innings for his third save of the postseason.
With Jaime Garcia unavailable due to a shoulder injury, Lance Lynn was given the ball for the all-important Game 5, the final contest at Busch Stadium. The right-hander could not get out of the fourth inning, in part due to his own throwing error. The Giants went on to shut out the Cardinals 5-0 on just six hits. Soft-tossing veteran Barry Zito pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings for the win.
Returning to San Francisco, the Giants embarrassed the Cardinals in winning Games 6 and 7 by a combined score of 15-1.
In Game 6, Ryan Vogelsong tossed seven innings of one-run ball with a career-high nine strikeouts to earn his second win of the series. Allen Craig drove in the Cardinals only run with a two-out RBI single in the sixth, which scored Carlos Beltran after he doubled. It was the Cardinals only extra-base hit in the Giants’ 6-1 victory. Chris Carpenter took the loss.
The Cards were spanked 9-0 in Game 7, which ended with the Giants celebrating in a downpour. Lohse, the Cards’ most dependable pitcher all year, just didn’t have it, allowing five runs in just two innings. Yadier Molina had four hits, with the rest of his teammates combined managing just three. Matt Cain earned the win for San Francisco with 5 2/3 innings of scoreless ball.
In the LCS, Molina hit .393 (11-for-28) with one double, two RBI and two runs scored. Beltran had four extra-base hits among his six safeties while batting .300. In limited duty, Matt Carpenter went 3-for-9 (.333), including a double, home run and two RBI.
Despite batting just .207, Jon Jay’s modest total of three RBI led the club in the LCS. As a team, the Cardinals batted just .217 in the seven games.
In the LCS, the Cardinals run producers didn’t produce. Cleanup hitter Craig had a dismal series, with just three hits in 24 at-bats (.125). Holliday struggled with back soreness that kept him out of Game 6. The number three hitter batted just .200, with five singles in 25 at-bats. 2011 hero David Freese had a .192 LCS average.
Through four games of the NLCS, St. Louis held a commanding three-games-to-one lead. With Game 5 scheduled at home, the Cardinals had the clear edge. However, the pitching, hitting and defense together failed them at the worst possible time.
Overall, the staff ERA was 3.75, but that doesn’t tell the story. In the final three losses, the combined ERA of starters Lynn, Carpenter and Lohse was over eight. The NLCS record-setting 10 unearned runs allowed by the Cards shaky defense were key in the Game 2, 5 and 6 losses, two of which were absorbed by 2011 post-season ace Carpenter. The offense scored just one run over their last 28 innings, the longest such dry stretch in team post-season history.
It was the fourth time in team history the Cardinals dropped a post-season series after leading three games to one. The others were in the 1968 World Series, 1985 World Series and 1996 NLCS.
Still, manager Mike Matheny’s first club finished 2012 just one win short of returning to the World Series and was eliminated by the soon-to-be new champion.