My top St. Louis Cardinals story of the year is the six-month battle that culminated in the club’s second consecutive National League Central Division title and fourth straight post-season berth, the latter a team record.
The Cardinals reported to 2014 spring training camp with high expectations – both placed on them by others and by themselves. With the vast majority of the same players that competed in the previous World Series, including a major infusion of young talent during 2013, the club was viewed by many as one of the favorites, along with the Dodgers, to win it all.
By game 10 of the 162-game regular-season schedule, it had become clear that the challenge would be considerable. The Cardinals were just 5-5 while Milwaukee blitzed their early opposition, quickly taking a three-game division lead. St. Louis first hit its season-low point of 6.5 games out of first on April 29. They tied it again for the better part of a week as June turned into July.
The Brewers held serve for five long months with the Cardinals spending the vast majority of that time in second place. St. Louis finally assumed first place for good in September, when the Cards turned back a late charge by Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals secured a playoff spot on September 21, as Matheny led his third club into the post-season in three years, including two straight division titles. However, it took another full week, until the final day of the season, before the division was clinched. The final margin was two games over the Bucs and eight ahead of the Brewers.
Pitching carried the way in 2014. The Cardinals posted an MLB‐best 23 shutout wins, their most since 1968, in fact. Adam Wainwright logged his second career 20-win season and a 2.38 ERA. Lance Lynn helped cover the loss of Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha by posting a 2.11 ERA from June 1 on. Closer Trevor Rosenthal’s 45 saves were second in the league, but he also tied for fifth in losses and sixth in blown saves.
Offensive frustrations, indicated by a meager plus-16 run differential for the season, made the schedule seem more arduous than usual for the Cards. The scoring differential was down over 100 runs from 2013 and the +16 mark was the lowest of all playoff qualifying teams.
St. Louis’ 55 one‐run games, of which they won 32, were their most tight contests since 1998. This was another indication of the small margin for error the club faced throughout 2014.
Most of the club’s top hitters experienced a downturn in production from 2013, including Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. The latter missed seven weeks with a thumb injury. Rookie Kolten Wong had a strong second half and free agent signee Jhonny Peralta led the team in home runs. Surprising Jon Jay was the team’s only .300 hitter.
The team saved its best for last, with a 17-9 September record becoming their top month of the year. The overall 90-72 record represented seven fewer wins than in 2013.
In 2014, the Cardinals were far better at Busch Stadium, winning 51 home games to tie Washington and Pittsburgh for the top mark in the NL. They were four games under .500 on the road, however. The Cards were 14 games over .500 in the Central Division and just +4 against the rest of MLB.
The Cardinals were never too high or too low. They were not swept in a single series of three or more games, their first season since 2005 to avoid it. On the other hand, they managed only five comparable sweeps themselves. Their longest winning streak was just six games, accrued as they took over first place for good at the start of September.
All in all, it was a tense regular season, but the club persevered and took home another division title. Only the most cynical would not recognize 2014 as having been a successful season for the St. Louis Cardinals.
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