photo: Tyler O’Neill (Michael McLoone/USA TODAY Sports)
The St. Louis Cardinals finished their late-charging season with a disappointing ninth-inning Wild Card Game loss to the Dodgers. Tyler O’Neill is the National League’s final Player of the Month in 2021. Our history feature covers the NLDS and St. Louis’ prior success in it.
Postseason Recap – Wild Card Game
The St. Louis Cardinals entered the postseason on the strength of a historic 17-game win streak that only recently ended. The met the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium for the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday. The pitching matchup was Adam Wainwright for the Redbirds against Max Scherzer for the Dodgers.
The Cardinals manufactured a run in the first inning to take 1-0 lead against Scherzer. Tommy Edman led off with a single to right field and stole second base with Paul Goldschmidt at the plate. Goldschmidt drew a walk. Tyler O’Neill flied out to right field for the first out and Edman advanced to third base. He scored on a wild pitch from Scherzer.
The game remained 1-0 in favor of the Cardinals until the fourth inning, when Justin Turner smacked a hanging curveball from Wainwright for a solo home run.
Through the next 4 ½ innings, neither team was able to score. St. Louis’ offense had opportunities but did not capitalize. Edman had three hits including the first inning single, and Harrison Bader was on base three times with a walk and two hit by pitches. Bader was left stranded all three times, as was Edman twice. O’Neill was on base in scoring position but was stranded as well. Dylan Carlson singled in the eighth but was left on first base. Goldschmidt singled and walked twice, but all for naught.
Entering the bottom of the ninth with the game still tied 1-1, T. J. McFarland induced line outs from Albert Pujols and Steven Souza to center field. McFarland walked Cody Bellinger with two outs and was replaced by former closer Alex Reyes. Reyes was 2-1 on the next hitter, Chris Taylor, and threw him an 88-mph slider that hung in the middle of the zone. Taylor sent it over the fence in left center field for a two-run home run to give the Dodgers the walk off 3-1 win.
Edman was 3-for-5. Goldschmidt and Carlson each had a hit for five hits total. Goldschmidt also walked twice. There were runners on base in every inning, via a hit, a walk, an error, or a hit by pitch, but the Cardinals went a pitiful 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
Wainwright went toe to toe with Scherzer and outlasted him by one inning. Over 5 1/3 innings, the 40-year-old gave up the one home run and three other hits, struck out five and issued two walks. Luis Garcia relieved Wainwright and tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Giovanny Gallegos threw a scoreless eighth but could not return for the ninth due to a fingernail issue. McFarland started the ninth, retired two batters and walked one. Reyes gave up the walk off home run, with one run charged to McFarland and the other to Reyes. McFarland took the loss.
There were two stolen bases, one by Edman, and the other by O’Neill, who reached on a walk.
The offense of the 17-game winning streak failed to show up for the postseason and the Cardinals’ season ended as a result.
The Big Picture (End of season)
The Cardinals were a whirlwind in the final weeks of the season, pitching, scoring, and playing defense right into the second wild card spot with five games left on the schedule. It was wild ride that many expected would continue well into the postseason. The expected outcome did not materialize as the St. Louis offense that was a juggernaut during the 17-game winning streak, flew the coop for the Wild Card Game.
The game ended in a fashion similar to a number of heartbreaking regular-season games, with a ninth inning walk off home run. No doubt Cardinals fans had flashbacks to the ninth inning grand slam by Daniel Vogelbach of the Brewers in the September 5 game. While many fans are inclined to blame reliever Alex Reyes (who also gave up the Vogelbach grand slam) for the Wild Card loss, the blame falls squarely on the offense.
The offense, facing a clearly diminished Max Scherzer, could only scratch out one run in the first inning. The Cardinals had at least one runner on base every inning, and had two runners on in the fifth, but each inning ended in a wasted opportunity.
Tommy Edman came to play, getting three hits and scoring St. Louis’ only run. Paul Goldschmidt reached base three times, as did Harrison Bader (without benefit of a hit). Dylan Carlson singled and reached on an error. Tyler O’Neill walked and stole second. In each case the hitters following did not capitalize. The offense struck out 10 times and was 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
What Cardinals fans saw in the Wild Card game they had seen for much of the season, with the team scoring early but failing to add on. It was a reasonable expectation that the improved offense of the final weeks of the season would carry over to the Wild Card Game. It did not, and that is why the postseason ended early for St. Louis.
On a high note, there is much to look forward to for 2022. The majority of the 2021 roster will be returning, including Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. It will be the final season for Molina, and perhaps for Wainwright as well. The young outfield, who provided a combined 11.6 WAR for the season, will also be back.
Stronger left-handed hitting and more production from shortstop are other potential needs with the potential addition of the designated hitter offering possibilities. This offense, which provided fans a wild and exciting final month of the season, can do even bigger and better things in 2022.
There are pitching holes to be filled, especially with the rotation. Eight of the nine eligible free agents are pitchers. The pitching depth of 2021 proved to be insufficient, requiring a half-dozen in-season moves. The Cardinals must add some pitching for the 2022 season, perhaps one or two pitchers from outside the organization, at least one of whom should be a starter. Some holes can be filled internally, but not all. With some more pitching, the elite defense, and the potential of the offense, the Cardinals could be a formidable presence in the NL for the 2022 season.
Final NL Central Standings
O’Neill named NL September Player of the Month
Cardinals left fielder Tyler O’Neill was named the National League Player of the Month for September and the first three days of October, MLB announced on October 4.
O’Neill, 26, had a breakout 2021, ending the season with a slash line of .286/.352/.560 with 34 home runs and 80 RBI.
The right-handed hitter slashed .328/.377/.731 with 13 home runs, 30 RBI and an OPS of 1.108 for September and Oct. He led the NL in HRs, RBI, runs scored, and SLG for that period.
O’Neill was joined by teammates Tommy Edman and Harrison Bader for Player of the Week honors this season. Bader was named NL Player of the Week the week following O’Neill.
Cardinals’ local TV ratings rank No. 1 in MLB
For the third time in the last four seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals’ local television ratings ranked #1 among all major league teams for the 2021 season. This is according to Nielson Media Research Data.
This was the 22nd consecutive year the team placed in the top four in the TV ratings. The Cardinals are primarily broadcast by Bally Sports Midwest, their regional carrier. Bally Sports Midwest carried 149 of the Cardinals 162 games in 2021. The Cardinals averaged a 6.2 household rating in St. Louis, an increase from 5.4 in the shortened 2020 season.
During the 17-game winning streak in September, Cardinals baseball games were the #1 prime time program in St. Louis.
Trade and Acquisition Rumors
There are no trade or acquisition rumors to report.
- 10/4 The Cardinals recalled OF Austin Dean from the Memphis Redbirds
- 10/6 The Cardinals reassigned RHP Jake Woodford to the minor leagues. This was a temporary paper transaction to remove the right hander from the roster for the Wild Card game only.
- 10/6 The Cardinals designated RHP Seth Elledge for assignment.
- 10/6 The Cardinals selected the contract of 1B Juan Yepez from the Memphis Redbirds. The first baseman did not make his MLB debut in the Wild Card Game but now has a 40-man roster spot.
- 10/6 The Cardinals reassigned LHPs Jon Lester and J.A. Happ to the minor leagues. As with Woodford, this was a temporary paper transaction. Other taxi squadders with the team in Los Angeles were infielders Kramer Robertson and Brendan Donovan, outfielder Nick Plummer, fourth catcher Ali Sanchez and injured pitchers Justin Miller and Wade LeBlanc.
- 10/7 The Cardinals activated RHP Jake Woodford and LHPs Jon Lester and J.A. Happ.
- 10/8 The Cardinals activated RHP Justin Miller from the 10-day injured list.
- 10/8 The Cardinals sent RHP Seth Elledge outright to the Memphis Redbirds.
- RHP Jordan Hicks (right elbow inflammation) remains on the 60-day injured list. Hicks made three rehab assignments for the Memphis Redbirds and is set to pitch in the Arizona Fall League which begins on October 13. The team is also looking for a winter ball opportunity for the right hander to get him ready to pitch in Spring Training 2022.
- 2B Max Moroff (left shoulder subluxation) remains on the 60-day injured list after suffering a shoulder injury in a batting practice session. Moroff had season ending surgery on June 6 with a recovery time of about seven months, which puts him on track to return healthy for Spring Training in 2022.
- RHP Carlos Martinez (right thumb ligament sprain) had surgery on July 16 to repair his thumb ligament and is out for the season. Martinez is on the final year of his contract, and though the team holds options for 2022 and 2023, they are not expected to pick them up.
- LHP Wade LeBlanc (left elbow pain) remains on the 10-day injured list. Le Blanc will be a free agent the day after the World Series ends. The Cardinals may offer Le Blanc a minor league deal to return in 2022 if he does not sign a major league deal elsewhere.
- RHP Ryan Helsley (right elbow stress reaction), was placed on the 60-day injured list on September 1. Helsley is expected to be healthy and ready to pitch for Spring Training in 2022.
- RHP Junior Fernandez (right lat strain) was transferred to the 60-day injured list on September 12. The right hander is expected to be healthy and ready to pitch for Spring Training in 2022.
- RHP Justin Miller (right elbow strain) was activated from the 10-day injured list for the Wild Card game but did not see action. Miller remains under the Cardinals control for one more season.
The 2021 season is at an end for the Cardinals, as they were defeated by the Dodgers 3-1 in the Wild Card Game on Wednesday, October 6. The postseason continues without the Redbirds. The AL and NL Division Series are in progress this week and the AL and NL Championship Series are set to begin next weekend.
The complete postseason schedule can be found here. Cardinals fans can enjoy Adam Wainwright as a FOX Network analyst for some postseason games. His stint began with the Astros vs. White Sox series on FS1.
When the postseason ends, the offseason begins with the election of free agency for eligible players. This is official at 9 am on the morning after the end of the World Series. Following a five-day exclusive window to negotiate with their former team, all free agents can then sign with other teams.
The Cardinals have nine players set to become free agents absent being re-signed by the Cardinals first. This list does not include Nolan Arenado, who has an opt-out clause in his contract but has notified the team he does not intend to exercise it. The nine players are Matt Carpenter, Andrew Miller, Carlos Martinez, Kwang-Hyun Kim, J.A. Happ, Jon Lester, T.J. McFarland, Luis Garcia, and Wade Le Blanc.
The contracts of Carpenter and Martinez include 2022 options that the Cardinals are not expected to pick up. Garcia and McFarland may be re-signed for 2022 if deals can be reached. Miller is not likely to be made an offer. The remaining players may or may not be returning to the Cardinals, either on a major league or a minor league deal.
Teams can also make Qualifying Offers to their eligible free agents. If accepted, the player would remain with the team for 2022 on a one-year contract for around $19 million. The deadline for teams to tender the Qualifying Offer is 4 pm CT on the fifth day following the World Series. The Cardinals are not expected to make a qualifying offer to any of their free agents.
Players under the Cardinals control but who will be arbitration eligible for 2022 under the current rules are Alex Reyes, Harrison Bader, Justin Miller, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Hicks, Giovanny Gallegos, Dakota Hudson and Tyler O’Neill. Some big raises are likely coming.
Blast from the Past
The 2021 postseason has begun, and though St. Louis has been eliminated, we will continue with a series that remembers past Cardinals’ postseasons at each level. Last week the Wild Card and its genesis was the focus, so we move on this week in Blast from the Past to the National League Division Series (NLDS) and look at its beginning as well as the years in which the Cardinals took part in this next level of the MLB playoffs.
As with the Wild Card, the NLDS grew from, temporarily at first, a baseball labor strike. As a result of the midseason labor strike in 1981, MLB implemented for that season only, a format in which the first-place teams before the strike, took on the first-place teams after the strike. This best of five format took an unusual turn because of the strike, in that the two teams with the first and second highest overall record in the NL in 1981, the Reds and the Cardinals, did not participate in the NLDS because their standing in each of the separate halves of the season were not good enough.
The Division Series returned for good following the 1994 strike. The first NLDS was played at the end of the 1995 season. The Braves defeated the Rockies three games to one, while the Reds swept the Dodgers in three games.
From 1998 through 2011, when there was only one Wild Card, the winner of the Wild Card would take on the NL team with the best regular season winning percentage in the NLDS and the other two Division winners would play each other. The exception was when the Wild Card winner and the team with the best record were from the same Division. In that case the Wild Card winner would play the team with the second-best record. During this period, the Wild Card winner won this round nine times, ending with the Cardinals in 2011.
In 2012, MLB added a second Wild Card to each league and the rule was changed. The Wild Card team that advanced to the NLDS would play the team with the best record regardless of Division. In that year only, the usual 2-2-1 home and away format was temporarily changed to 2-3.
Since the NLDS was introduced, the Cardinals have won the most Division Series, with 10 of 13 played. A brief summary of each of these 13 NLDS series follows.
1996 NLDS – The Cardinals, under manager Tony La Russa, defeated the San Diego Padres, led by manager Bruce Bochy, in a three-game sweep. The scores were 3-1 in Game 1, 5-4 in Game 2, and 7-5 in Game 3.
2000 NLDS – The Cardinals swept the Braves 3-0. The Game 1 score was 7-5. The Cardinals won Game 2, 10-4 and Game 3, 7-1.
2001 NLDS – The Cardinals lost this series 3-2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cardinals won Game 2 (4-1) and Game 4 (4-1). The Diamondbacks went on to win the World Series.
2002 NLDS – The Cardinals gained revenge for the 2001 loss by sweeping the Diamondbacks in three games, 12-2, 2-1, and 6-3.
2004 NLDS – The Cardinals won 3-1 over the Dodgers. The scores were 8-3 St. Louis in Games 1 and 2, a 4-0 loss in Game 3, and a 6-2 win in Game 4.
2006 NLDS – The Cardinals met the Padres again and St. Louis prevailed in four. The three wins were secured in Game 1 (5-3), Game 2 (2-0), and Game 4 (6-2). The Cardinals dropped Game 3, 3-1. The Redbirds went on to win the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
2009 NLDS – The Cardinals were swept by the Dodgers, 5-3, 3-2, 5-1. Game 2 featured the infamous fly ball error by Matt Holliday, who lost the ball in the lights, and it bounced off his lower body.
2011 NLDS – The Cardinals defeated the Phillies in five. The Cardinals won Game 2 (5-4), Game 4 (5-3), and Game 5 (1-0). Game 5 was the pitching gem by Chris Carpenter, who defeated his close friend, Roy Halladay. It was the only “winner take all” game in postseason history to end in a 1-0 score. The Cardinals eventually defeated the Texas Rangers to win their 11th World series title.
2012 NLDS – With new manager Mike Matheny, the Cardinals took the Nationals in five games. St. Louis won Game 2 (12-4), Game 3 (8-0), and Game 5(9-7). In the finale, the Cardinals came back from a 6-0 deficit in the first three innings. A wild ninth inning resulted in four runs and a win for the Redbirds.
2013 NLDS – The Cardinals beat the Pirates three games to two. St. Louis won Game 1 (9-1), Game 4 (2-1, and Game 5 (6-1). Following the rule change, this was the first season in which two teams from the same Division met in an NLDS. The Cardinals went on to lose to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
2014 NLDS – The Cardinals defeated the Dodgers 3-1. They won Game 1 (10-9), Game 3 (3-1) and Game 4 (3-2). In the wild opener, the Cardinals scored eight runs against Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw in the seventh inning. St. Louis fell to San Francisco in the NLCS.
2019 NLDS – The Cardinals defeated the Braves in five, with wins in Game 1 (7-6), Game 4 (5-4 in extra innings), and Game 5 (13-1). The latter featured a 10-run first inning, setting the major league record for first inning runs in a postseason game. It was also the first (and only) Game 5 between the Cardinals and the Braves in NLDS history.
Next week, we will look at the NLCS and the history of the Cardinals in it.
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