Arch Awards: What was the Best Team in St. Louis During 2015?

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Sep 30, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals players pose for a photo after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates to clinch the National League Central Division Championship at PNC Park. The Cardinals won 11-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2015 St. Louis Cardinals

With the high standards that the St. Louis Cardinals have set for their fans over the past decade or so, it’s easy for a Cardinal follower to label the 2015 season a failure due to the fact that the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. However, it can also be easy to forget that the Cardinals finished with Major League Baseball’s best regular-season record by five wins and tied for the eighth-winningest season in the franchise’s 134-season history.

The Cards easily could have crumbled early on—or really, at any point during the season—because of the multitude of injuries that set them back. The ace of their pitching staff, Adam Wainwright, was seemingly sidelined for the season after he suffered a torn Achilles in late April. Setup man Jordan Walden went down with a shoulder injury that turned out to be season-ending right around the same time. First baseman Matt Adams went down with a torn quad in late May, and left fielder Matt Holliday followed him with a less serious version of the same injury just over a week later, and after returning in mid-July, he’d quickly re-aggravate the injury and be sidelined until mid-September. Throwing in a season ruined by a wrist injury for incumbent center fielder Jon Jay, an August elbow injury to his replacement, Randal Grichuk, and a September thumb injury suffered by catcher Yadier Molina, the Cardinals were just about as injury-plagued as one team can be during 2015.

Luckily, a cast of surprising characters came together to do more than just keep the team afloat; rather, the unheralded players propelled the Cardinals to dominance. 24-year-old Carlos Martinez, spending his first full season in the starting rotation, went 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA. Lefty Jaime Garcia, who rejoined the rotation in May following two seasons ruined by injury, had a career year and went 10-6 with a 2.43 ERA. Righthander John Lackey, who had been mostly an innings-eater for his past six seasons, bounced back in a big way and had the best season of his career, throwing for a career-best 2.77 ERA in a team-leading 33 starts.

On the offensive side, outfielder Randal Grichuk ascended from a fourth outfielder type to the team’s most imposing offensive threat, hitting for a team-best .877 OPS with 17 homers and 47 RBI in 350 plate appearances. Rookie Stephen Piscotty came up in late July and proceeded to dominate, hitting .305/.359/.494 with seven homers and 39 RBI in just 256 plate appearances. And though neither third baseman Matt Carpenter or right fielder Jason Heyward put up numbers that were absolutely off the charts, they were both consistent anchors of the offense and helped the team persevere thanks to their superior all-around ability.

The Cardinals ultimately couldn’t pull through as they faced the National League’s hottest team at the time, the Chicago Cubs, in the first round. After months of dominant success, the Cardinals seemed to lose steam during September, and once they got to the playoffs, guys like Jhonny Peralta, Kolten Wong, Matt Holliday, and Matt Carpenter didn’t provide the necessary firepower to the offense to enable them to overcome the Cubs’ dominant lineup.

In the end, though, this Cardinals team should be remembered as a fun to watch, 100-win team that dominated for nearly the entire duration of the schedule, and simply didn’t match up well with their opponents during the playoffs.

Next: 2014-15 St. Louis Blues