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

TCN blog 2013 top story #2: Back on top of the National League

The 2013 St Louis Cardinals recaptured the National League Central Division crown for the first time since 2009 and tied for the best record in Major League Baseball. It was their third consecutive playoff appearance after a pair of second-place finishes that earned Wild Card berths. They went on to take the National League crown, reaching the World Series for the third time in the last eight years, before falling in the World Series in six games.

Here is how it unfolded.

Regular season

To open the season, the Cardinals lost two of three in Arizona, but moved into first place by the second week of play. The club remained atop the division until late June, never opening a lead of more than four games. Their high water mark in the standings occurred in Cincinnati on June 7 and 9.

From the period of June 28 through July 6, the team fell out of first. During that time, the Cards struggled in interleague play against the American League West. Once they regained first place, they remained there for most of July.

A disastrous seven-game losing skid in Atlanta and Pittsburgh to close July enabled surging Pittsburgh to capture first place. With a loss to the Dodgers on August 8, the Cards hit their low point of the season – four games out of first. They remained four back when losing to the Cubs on August 10, finishing a dreadful 4-13 stretch.

All during September, the Cardinals battled with the Reds and Pirates for the division and the two National League wild cards. On September 7, St. Louis moved back into first for what would be the final time.

The Cardinals won every series the remainder of the way, finishing the final month strongly at 19-8. To cap off the regular season, the Cards swept the Nationals and Cubs at home, finishing three games ahead of Pittsburgh and seven up on the Reds.

St. Louis officially clinched the division following Game 160 and secured home field advantage over Atlanta on the final day of the season as manager Mike Matheny led his second club into the post-season in two years.

The Cardinals’ overall record was 97-65, a nine-win improvement from 2012 and six more than the 2011 World Champions. They tied Boston for the best mark in all of Major League Baseball.

To read in-depth recaps of the 2013 Cardinals regular season, including individual player exploits, refer to these articles at The Cardinal Nation:
“2013 St Louis Cardinals Regular Season Review”
“2013 St. Louis Cardinals: By the Numbers”

Post-season

In the Division Series, the Cardinals faced a division foe, the Pittsburgh Pirates, winner of the Wild Card Game over Cincinnati. The Bucs, having not participated in the post-season since 1992, were a national sentimental favorite and had a slight regular-season edge over St. Louis, 10 games to nine.

St. Louis and Pittsburgh took turns dominating the other in Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis, turning the home advantage in the Bucs’ favor. With Pittsburgh just one win away, Michael Wacha pitched the Cards to a huge Game 4 victory in the Steel City. Adam Wainwright finished off the job with complete-game win in Game 5 to lead the Cardinals to a 3-2 edge.

Behind strong pitching, especially from rookie and Championship Series MVP Wacha, the Cardinals dispatched the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers in six games of their best-of-seven set to take their fourth National League pennant in the last 10 years.

The other MLB team that won 97 regular season games, the Boston Red Sox, awaited St. Louis in a rematch of the 2004 World Series. After a split in Boston gave the Cards the early edge, they could not hold serve, dropping two of three at home and the concluding Game 6 in Boston.

All-in-all, it was another fine season for the Cardinals in 2013. The club overcame the early losses of veteran starter Chris Carpenter and closer Jason Motte with an infusion of young, internally-developed talent. The newly-mixed group still posted the best record in the National League and tied for tops in MLB. Manager Mike Matheny’s second club took its playoff push deep into the World Series before falling.

2013 in its entirety reinforces the fact that Cardinals’ long-term organizational strategy to develop from within is working. Even those prominent pundits who seized every opportunity to take potshots at ownership and management in the past now have no choice but to reverse field and praise a job well done.

With necessary changes made to try to address gaps in the infield and in center, the club’s outlook for 2014 and beyond remains strong.

To read an in-depth recap of the 2013 Cardinals post-season, refer to this article at The Cardinal Nation:
“Cardinals Post-Season Review and 2014 Outlook”

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

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2 Responses to “TCN blog 2013 top story #2: Back on top of the National League”

  1. [...] continuing leadership 4. Matt Carpenter’s rise 3. Molina’s MVP bid 2. Back on top of the NL Central [...]

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