There’s a lot to unpack from the Cardinals’ 2017 season. For fans of this franchise, this was an extremely disappointing year that didn’t meet our expectations. Baseball fundamentals were sorely lacking early on, and the club wasn’t well put together from the start.
At the same time, we saw a bevy of young talent, and the club did go into the final week with a chance to make the playoffs.
Of the thirteen franchises that have won the World Series in the last 25 seasons, only the Cardinals and the Yankees haven’t finished last in their division in that time, and the Cardinals and Yankees are the only two franchises that currently have at least ten consecutive winning seasons. So naturally, as Cardinals fans we’re spoiled. We saw some good, lots of bad, and some incredibly ugly this season.
Here’s a partial recap…
A great run after bad start: The Cardinals got off to a miserable 3-9 start, but rebounded with an 18-6 run that propelled them into first place in the Central division on May 14. In that 24-game stretch, Cards pitching allowed three or fewer runs eleven times, and averaged 5.1 runs per game. Notable is that the offense put up more than three runs nineteen times in 24 games. For the season, the Cards went 69-27 when they scored more than three.
July: From June 25 through August 14, the Cardinals had 28 wins, which were second most in the Majors behind the Dodgers. That 28-16 run, by the way, got the Cardinals back to the top of the NL Central as of August 15.
Tommy Pham: Pham didn’t have a good spring and was optioned to Memphis to start the year, but after being called up in early May was easily the Cardinals’ best player. He hit .306 with a .931 OPS, hitting 22 doubles, 23 homers and stealing 25 bases.
Paul DeJong: The revelation at shortstop hit 25 homers and drove in 65 while hitting .285 with an .857 OPS. He stepped to the plate 223 times in the third spot in the order, and hit .292 with an .855 OPS. As a rookie. Additionally, he played very well defensively at shortstop, despite passing 100 games played at that position as a pro at about mid-season. Because of DeJong’s defensive prowess, he can be counted on to be a solid contributor in 2018.
The opening night lineup: Stop me if you’ve heard this one…
Dexter Fowler, CF-Had a strong offensive season, slashing .264/.363/.488. He does have limitations as a center fielder, which must be addressed before 2018.
Aledmys Diaz, SS-Was sent to Memphis on June 28 after a .260/.293/.396 start. His defense left a lot to be desired, too. His future is in serious doubt.
Matt Carpenter, 1B-As a third-place hitter, he hit .221 with a .429 slugging percentage and just fifteen extra base hits in 201 plate appearances. Carpenter can thrive as a leadoff hitter, with a .914 OPS there this season, but a .783 OPS in the three hole.
Jhonny Peralta, 3B. After illness, injury and lack of performance, Peralta was DFA’d on June 9.
Yadier Molina, C-Molina was great. He’s not a problem.
Stephen Piscotty, RF-Piscotty learned during the season that his mother is suffering from ALS. He was sent down from August 7-19 to fix his swing. He was limited to 107 games, and after a strong rookie season, Piscotty’s batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage have declined in each succeeding year.
Jedd Gyorko, 2B-With Peralta’s demise, Gyorko turned out to be a serviceable 3rd baseman when healthy.
Randal Grichuk, LF-Like Piscotty, Grichuk was sent to the minors to work on his swing. It was the second straight year he’s been assigned to the minors.
Of the opening night starting eight, three were sent down, one was designated for assignment and ultimately released, one couldn’t perform in his assigned spot in the order, one (Fowler) struggled defensively, and two were as good as or better than expected.
Relievers Seung Hwan Oh and Brett Cecil: Oh was brilliant as a rookie, with a 1.92 ERA and five homers allowed in 79.1 innings, but this year he had a 4.10 ERA, and allowed ten homers in 59.1 innings. Cecil had a solid two month stretch, but overall was just not consistent. At the end of the season, Cecil was relegated to being the third Cardinal lefty reliever.
Record vs. Cubs and division: The Cardinals went 5-14 against the Central Division Champion Cubs, including 1-8 in Chicago. As mentioned last week in this spot, they had the lead in six of those games in Chicago. If the Cards could have just gone 9-10 against Chicago they would have 87 wins, the same as the second Wild Card, Colorado.
Worse than that, the Cards went 10-9 against a Reds team that lost 94, 11-8 against the Pirates and 8-11 against Milwaukee. Only Pittsburgh, Atlanta, San Diego and San Francisco had fewer divisional wins in the N.L. than the Cardinals.
Early baserunning and fielding: The Cardinals spent the first half of the season near the top of the league in errors committed and runners lost on the bases. They had such a substantial lead in June that even though they improved significantly in the second half, they still tied with Philadelphia for the league lead in runners lost on the bases at 64. They were also third in the N.L. with runners lost at home, with a total of 21. Defensively, even though things improved with DeJong at shortstop, the fielding start the Cardinals had put them behind the eight ball.
Overall, the Cardinals were seventh in UZR, fifth in DWar, and fourth in defensive runs saved. The last two thirds of the season were great, but the April, May and the first part of June were ugly.
Tommy John surgeries: The Cardinals lost prized rookie Alex Reyes before Spring Training even began. He was working out at home and felt some discomfort, and it turned out to be a torn UCL. Trevor Rosenthal was pitching exceptionally well when he couldn’t get any velocity on August 16 in Boston. He was diagnosed with a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament several days later, and the Cards were never the same.
There’s A LOT more there, including the manager, coaching staff, overall bullpen, and struggles against winning teams. And on the positive side numerous young, talented players ascended to the big leagues, and the Cardinals played meaningful baseball in September.
All of this, however, ended with a third-place finish. The pass for winning the 2011 championship has expired, and the Cardinals have a big off-season of transactions necessary if they plan on getting back to the post-season in 2018.