Like other Cards’ fans, I’ve spent a good chunk of the last couple of days thinking about what might have been with this season. In so many ways it was such a great season — 100 wins, 1st place in the toughest division in baseball — and, yet, I’ve found myself wondering how the season would have played out if things had finished a little bit differently. As Cards’ fans, we’re tremendously spoiled. This is the first year in the last 5, for example, that the Cardinals haven’t made it to the NLCS. We’re in it every year. Not many teams can say that. If I was a fan of the Astros, Rangers or even Yankees, I could imagine that I would be able to look back on this season and realize how much my team accomplished. For all of these fans, their teams ended up pretty close to their best case scenarios. It’s disappointing for the season to end, to be sure — especially with the Astros’ collapse in game 4 of their series and the 7th inning meltdown by the Rangers’ defense in game 5 of theirs — but almost everyone has to acknowledge how great those teams’ seasons were. And the Cardinals won 100 games and it just doesn’t feel like a great season. Some of that is because we’re spoiled. And some is because it seems as though we could have accomplished much more. For example:
- What if Wainwright hadn’t gotten injured? Would the NLDS against the Cubs have turned out differently if Wainwright could’ve started game 1? We could’ve pushed Lackey to game 2 against Hendricks and then Garcia starts game 3 when he’s probably rested and not nursing a stomach virus. It’s a whole different series.
- What if Matt Holliday was healthy? He just wasn’t himself down the stretch or in the postseason. Our #3 hitter really couldn’t hit, at least not like a #3 hitter, and we were playing shorthanded as a result.
- What if Carlos Martinez hadn’t gotten hurt? Put him and Wainwright in the rotation and it’s deadly. Now, Martinez pitches game 3 and Garcia goes in 4. There’s a good argument to be made that we just didn’t have our 2 best starting pitchers in the postseason.
- What if Matt Adams was healthy? I’m not the biggest Adams fan in the world but he can certainly mash against righties and he wasn’t healthy enough to even beat out Brandon Moss or Jon Jay for the postseason roster. (Maybe it could’ve prevented Mozeliak from shipping Rob Kaminsky to Cleveland in exchange for Moss.)
- What if Randall Grichuk hadn’t kept getting hurt? Not only would he have been in contention for the Rookie of the Year, but he would have been a deadly hitter in the middle of the lineup in October. For a team that struggled to score so often this season — and again in the postseason — how much would we have been helped with a healthy Holliday, Adams, and Grichuk avaialble?
- What if Jordan Walden had been healthy? Matheny wore out Siegrist, and maybe Maness and Rosenthal, and part of the reason was that we were counting on Walden to pitch the 8th inning and get the game to Rosenthal. We certainly could have used him rather than Broxton and Cishek down the stretch and could have saved some wear-and-tear on Siegrist.
That’s a lot of what-ifs. This was a very good team that could have been an historically outstanding team and it fell short in October — when it counted most — largely due to injuries. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Instead, however, I want to look at a different set of what-ifs. Most teams, if they had to deal with all those setbacks, would not have won 100 games or finished above the Pirates and Cubs. How in the heck did that happen?
- What if Randall Grichuk, for all his injuries, hadn’t emerged as a tremendous power hitter who could play center field? Grichuk was in the Rookie of the Year race until his second injury (remember, he missed the beginning of the season with an injury as well). Grichuk had a higher ISO this year than Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz and Paul Goldschmidt and hit the ball as hard as Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. Did I mention that he can play center field? I don’t really know if he can stay healthy for 600+ plate appearances but, if he can, he might be a star.
- What if Stephen Piscotty hadn’t emerged as a no-doubt offensive impact player for the Cardinals? This is a guy who was always thought of as a pretty good prospect, but prospect analysts were always waiting on his power to emerge. Prior to this season, he never hit more than 9 HR in the minor leagues. He hit 11 in his first 87 games at Memphis this year but we’re still talking about the Pacific Coast League. He was a good AAA hitter, but not a great one. And then he was called up and very soon thereafter became a star. He hit 7 HR and 15 doubles in just 63 games. Granted, it was just half a season, but his wRC+ was 133. So was Carlos Correa’s. Manny Machado, who hit 35 HR this year, had a 134 wRC+. He performed better offensively in his 256 PA than Curtis Granderson and Schwarber did this year. And he showed he could play both outfield corners and first base. One of our biggest concerns going in to last season is what to do about 1B when facing a lefty, considering Matt Adams’s profound issues facing lefties (one HR vs. Kershaw notwithstanding). Those concerns have vanished.
- What if Carlos Martinez hadn’t emerged as an outstanding starter? There were many who were concerned that he’d never be anything more than a reliever.Those concerns aren’t there any more.
- What if Jaime Garcia’s career had been ended by injuries? I didn’t expect anything from Garcia this season or, honestly, ever. Pitchers just rarely come back from multiple shoulder injuries. And yet Garcia did, and emerged as one of the team’s best starters this year. He’s gone from a guy who almost certainly would not have had his option for 2016 picked up, to a guy whose option will definitely be picked up.
- What if Kevin Siegrist hadn’t re-emerged as a shutdown reliever? Granted, his season didn’t end too well but he inarguably had a tremendous season. He was injured most of 2014 and the team had to be unsure of whether or how much they could count on Siegrist for 2015 and he ended up becoming Matheny’s go-to guy out of the pen.
- What if Tommy Pham hadn’t emerged as a legitimate contributor? This is a guy the team always thought a lot of but he just couldn’t stay healthy. When Grichuk got hurt, they called him up just to see what would happen and he showed himself to be fearless, to be a guy who can play center field, and to be a guy who can hit the ball hard. His average exit velocity was basically the same as Goldschmidt’s.
The bottom line is that, though this season ended disappointingly, there’s a lot to look forward to next year and down the road. What do all those guys in that last segment have in common? Pham is the oldest, and he’s just 27 years old. Is there any wonder why, after the game 4 loss to the Cubs, Adam Wainwright had this to say?
The season was an unquestioned success, though we would have all liked to have finished stronger. And all signs point to the probability that next year will be even better.