photo: Milwaukee Brewers clinch as Tyler O’Neill exits, Busch Stadium 9/26/18 (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports)
As is our custom, there is no more important annual story than the bottom line result for the St. Louis Cardinals. For the third consecutive year, the season had a similar and disappointing ending – no playoff berth – to a bumpy season during which the manager was fired.
The 2018 Cardinals reported to spring training camp with an underdog label, and rightfully so. The Chicago Cubs had won two consecutive division titles, coupled with the upstart Milwaukee Brewers pushing the Cards into third place in 2017.
In a busy off-season, St. Louis added free agent starting pitcher Miles Mikolas and coaches Mike Maddux, Willie McGee and Jose Oquendo, while saying goodbye to Lance Lynn, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and Derek Lilliquist, among others.
The Cardinals played well in the spring, but it did not carry over into the regular season.
Winning just one of their first four series, St. Louis was playing catch-up from the very start and only spent one week alone in first place – in early May. From Memorial Day on, the Cardinals were mired in either third place or fourth, except for a brief return to second place in late August.
For the third straight year, the Cardinals reset their sight on claiming one of the two Wild Cards and showed improvement following the dismissal of manager Mike Matheny and hitting coaches John Mabry and Bill Mueller. Those moves occurred on July 14 with the Cards one game over .500. At the end of the month, another major change was made as starting center fielder Tommy Pham was traded to Tampa Bay for three prospects.
Following a season-best 22-6 August under new manager Mike Shildt, their chances were crushed in September with a stumbling finish much like in 2017. To complete the 12-15 month to conclude the season, St. Louis went a dismal 1-5, swept at home by eventual division-winning Milwaukee and dropping the final series at wild card Chicago.
After the Cubs both clinched the division and eliminated the Cards at Busch Stadium in 2017, this time it was the Brewers who celebrated their playoff berth on the field and in St. Louis’ visitors clubhouse (see main photo above).
St. Louis finished three games out in the race for the second wild card and 7 ½ games back in the division, missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season after five straight appearances. The club ended 88-74, up five wins from the year before, but not enough in a changing world in which numerous rebuilding teams have devalued victories.
The top individual performers were three newcomers – Mikolas and two rookies, center fielder Harrison Bader and starting pitcher Jack Flaherty – along with stalwart Matt Carpenter. Mikolas and Yadier Molina were National League All-Stars with Molina earning his ninth career Gold Glove Award.
Major disappointments included outfielder Dexter Fowler and relievers Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson and Greg Holland. The first three will be back in 2019 for another try.
The additions of Paul Goldschmidt and Andrew Miller, to enhance the offense and bullpen, respectively, and expected growth from the youngsters, including nine first-year players last season, give the Cardinals increased confidence they can pass the Cubs and unseat the Brewers as Division Champions in 2019.
To go deeper
For a 6,000-word review of the Cardinals’ 2018 season:
The Cardinal Nation’s top 10 stories of the year countdown
Next up in this annual series are my predictions of the top five Cardinals stories of 2019 and an audit of how well I did in attempting to predict 2018’s biggest news items one year ago.
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