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Because he was the best at generating runs for a team at times desperate for offense, Matt Holliday is my choice for 2014 Cardinals Player of the Year.

matt_holliday6The United Cardinal Bloggers group annually asks members to cast ballots for a series of postseason Cardinals awards. Here are my 2014 selections:

Player of the Year: Matt Holliday

The left fielder led the 2014 Cardinals in key run-producing categories such as RBI (90) and total bases (253) and was second in runs scored (83).

Without Holliday, the Cardinals likely would not have been able to achieve 90 wins for the second consecutive season and earn a National League Central Division title. With 585 RBI and 619 runs, the Cardinals ranked below the league averages (607 RBI) and (640 runs) in those two categories. Holliday kept them competitive.

Holliday also ranked second on the Cardinals in hits (156), doubles (37), home runs (20) and walks (74).

His .370 on-base percentage ranked well above the team average of .327 for non-pitchers.

Pitcher of the Year: Adam Wainwright

The right-hander was the ace of the 2014 Cardinals, leading the club in wins (20), innings pitched (227.1), complete games (five) and shutouts (three).

In 2014, Wainwright had the lowest ERA (1.83) before the All-Star Game break for a Cardinals starting pitcher since Steve Carlton (1.65) in 1969.

Wainwright in 2014 became the first big-leaguer to have nine of his first 18 starts of a season be scoreless efforts of seven or more innings, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Game of the Year: Game 1 of National League Division Series

The Cardinals scored eight runs in the seventh, erasing a 6-2 deficit, and withstood a Dodgers rally in the last two innings to win, 10-9, on Oct. 3, 2014, at Los Angeles. The stunning outburst against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw set the tone for the series and gave the Cardinals momentum.

Left-handed batters hit .193 versus Kershaw in the regular season. Cardinals left-handed batters, though, pummeled Kershaw in Game 1 of the Division Series. In the seventh, Matt Adams and Jon Jay produced RBI-singles. Matt Carpenter, who had homered off Kershaw in the sixth, hit a three-run double against him in the seventh. Right-handed batter Matt Holliday capped the comeback with a three-run home run off reliever Pedro Baez. Boxscore

Surprising Player of the Year: Pat Neshek

Signed by the Cardinals at the start of spring training, Neshek initially was considered a longshot to make the team. Instead, he developed into a consistently reliable reliever. Neshek, 34, produced six saves for the 2014 Cardinals after having none in seven previous big-league seasons. The right-hander was 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA in 71 games. Right-handed batters hit .176 against him.

Disappointing Player of the Year: Peter Bourjos

After being acquired from the Angels, Bourjos was expected to ignite the Cardinals’ offense with his speed and provide consistent play in center field. Instead, he struggled to hit. Bourjos had more strikeouts (78) than hits (61) for the 2014 Cardinals. The right-handed batter hit .194 against left-handed pitching.

Cardinals Rookie of the Year: Kolten Wong

The second baseman recovered from a deep slump in June and finished the season with 12 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

Wong is the fourth Cardinals rookie to reach double figures in home runs and stolen bases in a season, joining Wally Moon (1954), Ken Boyer (1955) and J.D. Drew (1999).

Wong also became the first Cardinals second baseman to hit five home runs over a seven-game span since Frankie Frisch achieved the feat in July 1930, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Acquistion of the Year: Jhonny Peralta

The shortstop provided steady defense and power. Signed as a free agent after an American League career with the Indians and Tigers, Peralta led the 2014 Cardinals in home runs (21) and doubles (38). He ranked second on the club in RBI (75), total bases (248) and slugging percentage (.443).

Most Anticipated Cardinal: Stephen Piscotty

Poised, smart and consistent, the right fielder hit .288 with 32 doubles and 144 hits in 136 games for Class AAA Memphis in 2014. Piscotty committed just three errors in 113 games in right field.

Cardinals Moment of the Year: Matt Adams in Game 4 of Division Series

The Dodgers led, 2-0, after six innings behind Kershaw in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Oct. 7, 2014, at St. Louis. A Dodgers win would shift the series to Los Angeles for a winner-takes-all Game 5.

Kershaw appeared dominant. He had struck out the side in the sixth and he had held the Cardinals to one hit, a Randal Grichuk single in the fourth.

Then, in the seventh, magic happened for the Cardinals. Holliday and Peralta singled. Adams, who had hit .190 against left-handers during the season, followed with a three-run home run. The big first baseman did a jubilant dance along the first-base line as Cardinals fans roared.

The stunning blast carried the Cardinals to a 3-2 victory, earned them a spot in the National League Championship Series for the fourth consecutive year and symbolized the persistence of a franchise that continues to find ways to excel. Boxscore

No blogger votes

The United Cardinal Bloggers ballot also offers opportunities to vote for several best blogger categories. I’m choosing not to vote in those categories; rather I encourage Cardinals blogging colleagues to keep writing and posting and just enjoy the experiences.

Previously: Solly Hemus, Matt Holliday: Different sizes, similar skills

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Mike Matheny became the first Cardinals manager to lead St. Louis to the postseason in each of his first three full seasons with the club.

mike_matheny9He’s also only the fifth big-league manager all‐time to have achieved that feat, joining Ron Gardenhire (2002-04 Twins), Larry Dierker (1997-99 Astros), Ralph Houk (1961-63 Yankees) and Hughie Jennings (1907-09 Tigers), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Matheny receives my top vote for the Connie Mack Award presented by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance to the most deserving manager in the National League.

Bloggers representing each National League franchise will vote for the Connie Mack Award. My vote is one of two representing the United Cardinal Bloggers.

Voters are required to list three managers on the Connie Mack Award ballot. Here, in order, starting with the top pick, are the managers who received my votes:

MIKE MATHENY

He led the Cardinals to their second consecutive National League Central Division championship. Under Matheny, the 2013-14 Cardinals became the first St. Louis teams to achieve consecutive seasons of 90 wins or more since the 2004-05 clubs.

His leadership skills and ability to overcome obstacles are exemplary.

Matheny excelled even though:

_ Yadier Molina, the catcher and heart and soul of the team, was limited to 110 games because of injury.

_ Allen Craig, considered a vital part of the offense, hit just .237 with a pitiful .291 on-base percentage before being banished to Boston.

_ Peter Bourjos, acquired from the Angels for David Freese, was a bust as the everyday center field candidate, hitting .231 with an on-base percentage of .294.

_ Two starters in the rotation, Jaime Garcia and Michael Wacha, got injured and missed big portions of the season. Garcia was limited to seven starts and Wacha made 19 starts.

_ Randy Choate, the 39-year-old left-handed relief specialist, posted an unacceptable 4.50 ERA.

_ Kevin Siegrist, projected as the top left-handed reliever, was an abysmal 1-4 with a 6.82 ERA.

_ The Cardinals ranked last in the National League in home runs at 105.

_ The Cardinals ranked next-to-last in the National League in steals at 57.

_ The Cardinals ranked ninth among 15 National League clubs in runs at 619.

Wrote Richard Justice of MLB.com: “Mike Matheny has kept things rolling because he’s great with the players and he’s poised.”

BRUCE BOCHY

The Giants manager led San Francisco to its third postseason appearance in five years even though ace Matt Cain was limited to 15 starts because of injuries, no player achieved 90 RBI and the club ranked last in the National League in steals.

CLINT HURDLE

The Pirates manager got Pittsburgh into the postseason for the second consecutive year and masterfully utilized utility player Josh Harrison (.315 batting mark, 164 hits in 143 games) to plug a myriad of holes by rotating him at third base, right field, left field, second base and shortstop.

Previously: Mike Matheny, Eddie Dyer share rare rookie achievement

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Cardinals manager Mike Matheny possesses excellent leadership skills, but needs to continue to show progress on his ability to make strategic decisions during games, his boss, general manager John Mozeliak, told Cardinals bloggers.

Mozeliak and Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III were among those who addressed bloggers and answered their questions during the club’s 2014 Blogger Event on June 22 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Asked to assess Matheny, the Cardinals’ third-year manager, Mozeliak cited Matheny’s leadership, saying the manager “understands people, relates very well.”

As for game management, Mozeliak said of Matheny, “That’s the evolution we are watching.”

In summary, Mozeliak said of  Matheny, “There’s no one else we’d rather see” as Cardinals manager.

Other newsworthy highlights of the session:

BALLPARK VILLAGE

DeWitt said revenue generated from the entertainment complex next to Busch Stadium “mostly goes to pay for that investment.”

Asked whether revenue from Ballpark Village would be reinvested in baseball operations, DeWitt said, “It’s too early to tell.”

DeWitt said expansion of Ballpark Village could include options such as a residential tower, office tower, hotel or retail complex.

OSCAR TAVERAS

Mozeliak said he told Matheny that if Taveras is with the Cardinals “you have to play him.”

Taveras, the outfield phenom, was sent to Class AAA Memphis after a short stint with the Cardinals.

Said Mozeliak: “He is an amazing player. He is going to hit. I imagine next time he’s here, he’s here for good.”

JULY 31 TRADE  DEADLINE

Mozeliak: “What we don’t want to do is make irrational decisions … July 31 is when irrational decisions are at their height.”

2014 CARDINALS SEASON

Mozeliak: “It hasn’t gone as planned … We thought it was going to be an offensive club.”

MEDIA GUIDE

Ron Watermon, Cardinals vice president of communications, said the franchise soon will debut a digital version of its media guide that will include a video of the Cardinal Way. He said the Cardinals will seek feedback from bloggers about the usefulness of the digital guide.

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In participation with a United Cardinal Bloggers project, here are my selections for the top 5 Cardinals stories of 2013:

mike_matheny61. NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS

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.

Previously: Mike Matheny, Eddie Dyer share rare rookie achievement

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In participation with a United Cardinal Bloggers project, my ballot for the 2013 Cardinal Blogger Awards:

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

yadier_molina15_ Yadier Molina. For the third consecutive year, Molina gets my vote for this honor. The catcher continues to raise the standard for overall excellence.

Among Molina’s many achievements in 2013:

_ Won his sixth consecutive National League Gold Glove Award.

_ Received the most votes (6.8 million) of any National League player selected to the All-Star Game team.

_ Established the Cardinals record for doubles by a primary catcher in a season, with 44. Molina topped the mark of 40 set by Ted Simmons in 1978.

_ Led the Cardinals in batting for the third consecutive season at .319.

_ Batted .373 (47-for-126) with runners in scoring position, ranking sixth in the National League.

_ Established his season-high career marks in runs (68), hits (161), doubles (44), RBI (80), batting average (.319) and extra-base hits (56).

_ Led all National League catchers in games (131), innings caught (1,115.1), total chances (1,043) and put outs (976).

PITCHER OF THE YEAR

_ Edward Mujica. The Cardinals were desperate for a closer after Jason Motte was injured and Mitchell Boggs flopped.

Mujica, who had just four saves in seven years in the big leagues, rescued the Cardinals season by earning 37 saves in 41 opportunities and posting a 2-1 record and 2.78 ERA. He converted his first 21 save chances in a row, stabilizing the bullpen and bolstering the Cardinals’ confidence.

Though he wore down in the season’s final month and was replaced by Trevor Rosenthal, Mujica was the pitcher who most enabled the Cardinals to win the division title for the first time since 2009.

GAME OF THE YEAR

_ Cardinals 8, Reds 6, Aug. 26, 2013, at St. Louis: The atmosphere was tense as the Cardinals opened a critical series with the Reds. The Cardinals and Pirates entered the day tied for first in the National League Central Division. The Reds were 2.5 games behind and sensed this series was their chance to overtake the Cardinals.

The tension mounted when the Reds led, 4-0, after two innings. They still were ahead, 5-3, entering the bottom of the seventh. The Cardinals scored, getting within a run at 5-4, and had the bases loaded with two outs. It seemed the momentum for the remainder of the season would swing to who won the matchup between Cardinals batter Allen Craig and reliever J.J. Hoover.

When Craig smashed a grand slam, giving the Cardinals an 8-5 lead, it seemed he lifted all of the pressure off his team’s shoulders and plopped it directly onto the backs of the Reds. Dusty Baker, the Reds’ manager, called Craig’s grand slam “devastating.”

From there, the Cardinals went on to win the division title and the Reds finished third. Boxscore and video.

SURPRISE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

_ Matt Carpenter. He went from being a question mark as a second baseman in spring training to an all-star selection who entered the record books amid Cardinals legends such as Stan Musial.

In 2013, Carpenter, providing an unexpected spark as a leadoff batter, led the major leagues in runs (126), hits (199) and doubles (55).

He also ranked among National League leaders in batting average (.318, 5th), total bases (301, 3rd) and extra-base hits (73, 3rd).

His 55 doubles broke the Cardinals franchise record for a left‐handed batter previously held by Musial with 53 in 1953.

DISAPPOINTING PLAYER OF THE YEAR

_ Mitchell Boggs. After posting a 4-1 record and 2.21 ERA in 78 games as a setup reliever in 2012, Boggs had a meltdown when asked to step in as the St. Louis closer in 2013. No one predicted this kind of collapse: 0-3 record, 11.05 ERA and five blown save chances in 18 games in 2013. His value diminished, the Cardinals gave away Boggs to the Rockies.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

_ Shelby Miller. In a season of several outstanding rookie performances, Miller delivered the best from start to end of the regular season, posting a 15-9 record and 3.06 ERA in 31 starts. He struck out 169 in 173.1 innings. No other big-league rookie in 2013 had more wins than Miller.

Miller also is the first St. Louis rookie pitcher since Rick Ankiel in 2000 to start 30 games. His 15 wins are the most by a Cardinals rookie since Dick Hughes had 16 in 1967.

Ankiel (194) and Dizzy Dean (191) are the only Cardinals rookies with more strikeouts than Miller.

ACQUISITION OF THE YEAR

_ Randy Choate. At 38, the left-handed reliever, acquired as a free agent, did his job well. He appeared in 64 games and didn’t allow a home run. He was 2-1 with a 2.29 ERA. Left-handed batters hit .176 (15-for-85) against him.

MOST ANTICIPATED CARDINAL

_ Oscar Taveras. Though his 2013 season was shortened because of an ankle injury, Taveras, 21, still rates as an exciting prospect who should play for the Cardinals in 2014. He batted .306 with 53 hits in 46 games for Class AAA Memphis in 2013.

BEST INDIVIDUAL CARDINAL BLOG

_ Fungoes. Consistently rates high marks for originality and thought-provoking information.

BEST TEAM CARDINAL BLOG

_ Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Always lively, fun, fresh.

BEST MEDIA CARDINAL BLOG

_ Bird Land. Good information with strong respect for franchise history.

BEST ROOKIE CARDINAL BLOG

_ Stl cup of joe. Blog is informative and easy to navigate.

POST OF THE YEAR

_ Memories Help Come to Terms at Aaron Miles’ Fastball: Nice writing. Smart stuff.

BEST UCB PROJECT

_ Top 7 prospects: Fun to research.

BEST UCB PODCAST

_ Conversations with C70. Consistently interesting.

BEST UCB TWITTERER

_ Bob Netherton and Dennis Lawson (tie). Big hearts. Funny. Compelling. Highly original.

Previously: Yadier Molina, Kyle Lohse: best of the 2012 Cardinals

Previously: Yadier Molina rates as 2011 Cardinals Player of the Year

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In participation with a United Cardinal Bloggers project to rate the top seven St. Louis prospects, we considered players who haven’t appeared in a game for the Cardinals.

Our top seven Cardinals prospects:

oscar_taveras1. OSCAR TAVERAS, outfielder

Until having surgery to repair an injured ankle in August 2013, Taveras, 21, continued to show he is close to becoming an everyday player for the Cardinals.

Taveras, who injured the ankle in May 2013, had 53 hits in 46 games for Class AAA Memphis. His batting average was .306 and his on-base percentage was .369.

In five seasons in the Cardinals organization, Taveras has a .518 slugging percentage.

A left-handed batter, Taveras was given a long look by the Cardinals in spring training. Taveras had 22 hits with 10 RBI in 24 spring training games for the 2013 Cardinals.

2. MIKE O’NEILL

Because he has an uncanny knack for getting on base, O’Neill, 25, should be contending soon for a spot as a Cardinals reserve outfielder.

O’Neill, a left-handed batter, had a .431 on-base percentage (115 hits, 71 walks) in 98 games for Class AA Springfield in 2013. Promoted to Memphis, he had a .402 on-base percentage (33 hits, 20 walks) in 32 games.

Chosen by the Cardinals in the 31st round of the 2010 draft, this 5-foot-9 underdog has a .435 on-base percentage (378 hits, 222 walks) in four seasons In the St. Louis system.

3. STEPHEN PISCOTTY

The outfielder likely is the best right-handed batter among the Cardinals’ prospects.

Piscotty, 22, had 71 hits in 63 games for Class A Palm Beach and 55 hits in 49 games for Springfield in 2013.

The former Stanford University standout is a past Cape Cod League batting champion.

4. DIXON LLORENS

Keep an eye on this unheralded reliever, a 25th-round Cardinals draft choice.

Llorens, 20, had 11 saves, a 2.85 ERA and struck out 71 in 47.1 innings for Class A Peoria in 2013. Right-handed batters hit .131 against him.

In two minor-league seasons, Llorens has 133 strikeouts in 83.1 innings.

5. JAMES RAMSEY

The outfielder, a left-handed batter, got off to a torrid start for Palm Beach in 2013, with 22 hits in 18 games and a .481 on-base percentage.

Promoted to Springfield, Ramsey, 23, showed some pop, hitting 15 home runs and producing 87 hits in 93 games.

The former Florida State University standout generally is considered an above-average fielder.

6. MARCO GONZALES

The left-handed pitcher, a 2013 first-round draft pick out of Gonzaga University, had a 1.62 ERA in four starts for Palm Beach, striking out 13 in 16.2 innings.

7. ROB KAMINSKY

Another left-handed pitcher and first-round draft choice, Kaminsky, 19, began the season in high school and finished it with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals. He struck out 28 in 22 innings in his first summer as a professional.

Previously: This should be last year for Shelby Miller on prospect list

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