In participation with a United Cardinal Bloggers project, here are my selections for the top 5 Cardinals stories of 2013:
The Cardinals won their 19th National League pennant in 2013 and their first under manager Mike Matheny.
Matheny, in his second season, joins Hall of Famers Whitey Herzog and Tony La Russa as the only Cardinals managers in the last 44 years to win a pennant. He also is the first St. Louis manager to lead the Cardinals to the postseason in each of his first two full seasons in the job.
The Cardinals finished with the best regular-season record in the National League (97-65) for the first time since 2005 (100-62) and they won their ninth Central Division title (and first since 2009).
Too often, the journey for excellence throughout a 162-game season gets obscured by whether a team wins a World Series championship.
By every measure, 2013 was a special season of team accomplishment for the Cardinals and that’s why the pennant (the Cardinals tied the Giants for most all-time in the National League) ranks as the top story.
2. MATT CARPENTER JOINS ELITE
In his first season as a second baseman, Matt Carpenter was a spectacular surprise, producing at a level comparable with the best Cardinals of all-time.
Carpenter hit 55 doubles. Only one Cardinal, Joe Medwick, with 64 in 1936 and 56 in 1937, hit more in a season. Carpenter holds the Cardinals record for most doubles in a season by a left-handed batter.
Named to the all-star team, Carpenter led the major leagues in runs (126), hits (199), doubles (55) and multi-hit games (63). He ranked among the top 10 in the National League in total bases (third with 301), batting average (fifth at .318) and on-base percentage (seventh at .392).
He became the fourth Cardinals player to achieve 50 doubles, 115 runs and 180 hits in a season, joining Medwick (1936), Stan Musial (1946 and 1953) and Albert Pujols (2003 and 2004).
3. MOLINA RAISES THE BAR
Yadier Molina continued to raise the standard of excellence for himself and all catchers.
In 2013, Molina established single-season career highs in batting average (.319), hits (161), doubles (44), runs (68), RBI (80) and extra-base hits (56).
His 44 doubles are the most by a Cardinals catcher in a season. He topped the mark of 40 set by Ted Simmons in 1978. Molina hit the most doubles in a season by a big-league catcher since Ivan Rodriguez of the Rangers had 47 in 1996.
Molina also led the Cardinals in batting average for the third consecutive season and he hit .373 with runners in scoring position (47-for-126).
His defense and handling of a pitching staff remained superb. Molina won the Gold Glove Award in 2013 for the sixth consecutive year. He led all National League catchers in games (131), innings caught (1,115.1), total chances (1,043) and putouts (976).
4. ROOKIE PITCHERS REIGN
The Cardinals got 36 wins from rookie pitchers, the most in the major leagues in 2013. That total represented the most single-season wins by Cardinals rookies since the 1941 team posted 42.
Rookies with wins for the 2013 Cardinals: Shelby Miller (15), Seth Maness (5), Michael Wacha (4), Kevin Siegrist (3), John Gast (2), Tyler Lyons (2), Carlos Martinez (2), Trevor Rosenthal (2) and Sam Freeman (1).
Miller became the first Cardinals rookie pitcher since Rick Ankiel in 2000 to start 30 games. His 15 wins, most by any major-league rookie in 2013, are tops for a Cardinals rookie since Dick Hughes posted 16 in 1967.
Miller struck out 169. The only Cardinals rookies to do better were Ankiel (194) and Dizzy Dean (191).
5. WONDERFUL WACHA
Rookie pitcher Michael Wacha dazzled with a string of magical starts from late September into the World Series.
In his last regular-season start, Sept. 24, the right-hander held the Nationals hitless for 8.2 innings before Ryan Zimmerman reached on an infield single.
With the Cardinals facing elimination, Wacha earned the win in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, keeping the Pirates hitless for 7.1 innings.
Then, Wacha did the unthinkable. He performed even better.
He earned wins in Games 2 and 6 of the National League Championship Series, yielding no runs in either start and beating the Dodgers’ ace, Clayton Kershaw. Wacha was rewarded with the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award. He and pitcher Livan Hernandez of the 1997 Marlins are the only rookies to receive the honor.
Wacha capped his incredible run with a win in Game 2 of the World Series against the Red Sox. He had a streak of 18.2 scoreless postseason innings pitched before yielding two runs to Boston.