photo: St. Louis Cardinals
Only in the rarest of years does the subject of our Top Story of the Year not reflect the end result of the St. Louis Cardinals team. 2021 is one of these exceptions, however.
It isn’t that the Cardinals played badly. When all was said and done, the club won 90 games and earned the second of two National League Wild Cards by seven games.
The route taken there wasn’t always an easy one, however.
The 2021 Cardinals got out of the gates fairly well, spending 31 days in first place, including most of the month of May. Their biggest division lead was 3 ½ games, on May 19, but their final day leading the standings was May 30. Soon after, their longest losing streak of six games occurred from June 2-8. By the All-Star break on July 12, St. Louis was eight games out of first place.
After slowly losing ground over the next two months, on the morning of September 11, the Cardinals were a season-high 15 games out of first place and tied for fourth in the standings for the second Wild Card. With their playoff odds under 3% and just 22 games remaining, it felt like the once-promising season had slipped away.
However, the Cardinals had other plans. The club cracked off a franchise-record winning streak of 17 games, 11 of which were on the road. The September 11-27 streak was the longest in MLB since 2017, when Cleveland set the MLB record of 22 consecutive wins. St. Louis’ final victory was especially significant, as it was the Wild Card-clinching game.
It was a team effort, with deposed closer Alex Reyes picking up four wins behind late-inning offensive heroics. Fittingly, ageless starter Adam Wainwright won the first and 17th games. Jon Lester and Miles Mikolas won twice each, with J.A. Happ, Justin Miller, Jake Woodford, T.J. McFarland, Dakota Hudson Kwang-Hyun Kim and Genesis Cabrera each victorious once.
Both National League Players of the Week during the streak were Cardinals, with the honors captured by outfielders Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader.
The Cardinals reached their season-best 20 games over .500 mark of 90-70 on October 1, before closing 2021 with three consecutive losses. The last was a close road defeat to the 106-win Dodgers in the Wild Card Game.
Even though the year ended in disappointment, the historic 17-game winning streak sealed the Cardinals’ 14th consecutive winning season and third straight playoff appearance.
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