photo: Albert Pujols (Gary A. Vasquez / USA TODAY Sports)
The Cardinal Nation’s annual review of the top stories affecting the St. Louis Cardinals during the prior calendar year is back for 2022, its 15th edition. The Top Stories of the Year are based on my view of the importance of the key events during the prior 12 months.
Per tradition, I will follow with my prediction for the top five Cardinals-related stories of 2023 and audit how well I did in attempting to predict 2022’s biggest news items one year ago.
A link to the top stories of each year from 2008 through 2021 and my start-of-year predictions for 2022 can always be found via “STORIES OF THE YEAR”, located on the red bar on the left side of the page, in the list directly underneath the site logo.
Also, join the discussion about this series at The Cardinal Nation’s free forum.
The Cardinal Nation’s Top 10 Stories of 2022
Former bench coach promoted to manager Oliver Marmol led the Cardinals to the National League Central Division title in his first season in the top job. The 93 regular season wins place Marmol fifth among Cardinals managers in their first full season. The 36-year-old became the youngest manager to take his team into the postseason since Lou Boudreau led Cleveland to a World Series title as a 31-year-old player/manager in 1948.
- Good and Bad at Bally Sports Midwest
2022 was a year of extremes for the Cardinals’ television home.
For the second consecutive year and fourth in the last five, the Cards had the top rating in the country for local telecasts. 2022 was their 23rd consecutive season in the top four nationally.
However, their play-by-play voice for all 23 years plus one, Dan McLaughlin, lost his job in December after his arrest for drunken driving, the 48-year-old’s third such incident (with the others just over a decade ago).
Also, the parent of Bally Sports Midwest, Diamond Sports Group, a venture of Sinclair Broadcast Group, is having significant financial difficulties due a large debt load.
Changes are coming.
- Contreras Signs
On December 9, the Cardinals formalized the signing of free-agent All-Star catcher Willson Contreras to a five-year contract plus a club option for 2028. The former Chicago Cubs backstop will receive $87.5 million over the five years. The 30-year-old will replace retired Yadier Molina behind the plate for St. Louis and serve as a right-handed middle-of-the-lineup bat.
- Rookies Emerge
A key reason the 2022 Cardinals won the National League Central Division was the emergence of a group of rookies. On the offensive side, infielder Brendan Donovan and outfielder Lars Nootbaar delivered 2.7 fWAR each. Spot starting and relieving, first-year pitcher Andre Pallante contributed 0.6 fWAR, just ahead of Nolan Gorman at 0.5 fWAR.
Donovan finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
- Wainwright and Molina Record Setters
Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright first reached St. Louis in 2004 and 2005 respectively and remained Cardinals ever since. Their 18 years together ranks third all-time for any teammates in Major League Baseball.
On September 14, the duo set the new MLB record for career starts by batterymates at 325. They finished with 328 as Molina retired following the season. 213 team wins in their outings is also tops all-time.
Their 1,822 strikeouts together rank second in MLB history. They are fourth in innings by batterymates at 2,155.
Both will don red jackets as Cardinals Hall of Famers as soon as they reach eligibility. Molina will be first as Wainwright will pitch again in 2023.
- Mid-Season Mound Makeover
As the summer trading deadline approached, the Cardinals remade their rotation with two trades. They acquired Jose Quintana from Pittsburgh and Jordan Montgomery from the Yankees. The most notable loss was starting center fielder Harrison Bader, who moved to New York.
In 11 starts as a Cardinal, Montgomery delivered a 3.11 ERA and 1.4 fWAR. Quintana was even better in his 12 outings, logging a 2.01 ERA and 1.8 fWAR, and earning the start in Game 1 of the post-season. The former will be back with St. Louis in 2022, but the latter departed as free agent and signed with the Mets.
It is not an understatement to assert the Cardinals would not have made the playoffs without the addition of this duo of left-handed starting pitchers.
- Molina Retires
In what should have been his triumphant final season as an active player, the mind of future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina seemed elsewhere at times.
The catcher reported to spring training late and left the team twice during the season, including a return home to Puerto Rico to watch his basketball team in the playoffs. The 40-year-old also missed time due to a knee injury and sat out multiple times due to “general soreness”.
When available, Molina was still the Cardinals’ best defensive option behind the dish, but he was ineffective on offense with a career low .535 OPS.
This uneven final season does not change his legacy as one the best catchers of all time. Over 19 seasons as a Cardinal, Molina was named to 10 All-Star Games, received nine Gold Glove Awards and a Silver Slugger Award.
- MVP Goldschmidt
Paul Goldschmidt had one of the most decorated seasons by any Cardinal ever.
To go with the Hank Aaron Award, the MLBPA Outstanding NL Player Award, Silver Slugger Award and the MLB Retired Players Heart and Hustle Award, the all-star first baseman received the National League Most Valuable Player Award.
The 34-year-old led the NL in slugging percentage (.578), OPS (.981) and OPS+ (180 – 80% over league average). Goldschmidt finished second in the Senior Circuit in on-base percentage (.404), RBI (115) and in bWAR (7.8).
- Division Title, but Another First Round Loss
The Cardinals finished the regular season at 93-69, winning the Central Division. They were in first place for much of April and for two weeks in June but took control of the division starting on July 4. By early September, they were 8 ½ games up and finished seven games ahead of second-place Milwaukee, which swooned in the second half.
As the third seed in the National League, the Cardinals did not receive a first-round bye. They lost to the Wild Card Philadelphia Phillies in the first two games of the best-of-three matchup. It was the third consecutive year in which the Cardinals were eliminated from the post-season without a series win.
1. Pujols’ Final Blaze of Glory
In March, Albert Pujols agreed to a one-year contract to return to the Cardinals for his final season as a major leaguer. The assignment looked to be the designated hitter against left-handed pitching, a limited role, but one in which he was still proficient at the age of 42.
Through the first half of the schedule, however, Pujols looked done (.676 OPS) and considered retirement. Following his naming to the All-Star Game by the commissioner and a starring role in the Home Run Derby, he took off. In 56 second-half games, he hit 18 home runs, plated 48 and logged a 1.103 OPS.
His 700th career home run, which seemed highly unlikely back in June, was hit September 23 in Los Angeles. He finished with 703, fourth all time.
The future first-ballot Hall of Famer culminated his 22-year career with the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, earned while wearing the same uniform he first donned in 2001.
Follow on articles
- Revisiting TCN’s Top Cardinals Stories of 2022 Predictions
- Projected Top Five St. Louis Cardinals Stories of 2023
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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