11/13/2004: An excellent analysis over at The Cardinals Birdhouse....
as Brian Walton gives us a review of the 2004 season and a rundown of what roster moves he thinks Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty needs to do to keep the Cardinals in the World Series hunt next year.
What Went Right?I'd like to see Prince Albert get it myself, but unless the "give the MVP to the best player on the championship team" principle kicks it, it isn't likely given the positively inhuman numbers Bonds put up this season.
Being a mid-market team, with a fair sized budget, $85 million, the Cardinals were carefully constructed. Their lack of depth was unexposed with no major injuries until late in the season.
This team found its groove after sliding into the Memorial Day weekend with a middling 24-22 record, good for fifth place in the NL Central. The rest of the way, they played at an incredible .700 clip (81-35) to steamroll their divisional competition, winning the Central by 13 games over Houston and 16 games over the Cubs.
This Cardinals pitching staff, with a solid, but unspectacular group of five #3-level starters, scared no one, yet with a fearsome offense led by three MVP candidates, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, they got by just fine. As opposed to their bitter rivals, the Chicago Cubs, who were undermined by bad chemistry and turmoil on and off the field, this Cardinal club was, for the most part, a group of quiet professionals, led by a veteran coaching staff.
Make no mistake about it. The 2004 Cardinals were a very, very good team and earned their championship on the field. The offense led the League in hits, runs, doubles, batting average and slugging percentage. They were third in home runs and surprisingly, second in stolen bases. The pitching staff lost the NL earned run average title on the final inning of the final game. Their bullpen, led by closer Jason Isringhausen (47 saves) and set-up men Steve Kline, Ray King, Kiko Calero and Julian Tavarez, was a major difference-maker for the team compared to past seasons.
The defense was recognized, too, with three repeat Gold Glovers; Scott Rolen, Mike Matheny and Jim Edmonds. Edmonds and NLCS MVP Albert Pujols were named Silver Sluggers, too. Pujols especially had another monster season, leading the NL in runs (133), extra-base hits (99) and total bases (389). He was second in home runs (46) and slugging percentage (.657) and third in RBI (123). He may again come in second to Barry Bonds in the MVP vote, but deserves to win, in my book.
What Went Wrong
I donít need to dwell on the 2004 World Series, as the entire world saw what happened as the Cardinals threatened in the early two games, but were dominated by superior pitching, in conjunction with a hitting slump that engulfed seemingly the entire team and a strange aura of tightness that may have emanated from their intensely-driven Manager Tony La Russa.
The two men who were expected to be the front line starters for the Cardinals had off years. While his 15-10 won-loss record looked decent, former #1 starter Matt Morris struggled all season long. With a 4.72 ERA, over a run higher than his career mark, Morris was a bust, given his $12.5 million salary, and is not expected back. 37-year-old Woody Williams went north from spring training recovering from a sore shoulder. It took much of the season for Williams to get back into form, though he was also victimized by poor run and bullpen support.
Len on 11.13.04 @ 07:20 PM CST