The St. Louis Cardinals could not quite make it without former manager Tony LaRussa and All-Star first baseman Albert Pujols. The Cardinals fell one game short of defending their 2011 World Series title by losing game seven of the NL Championship Series to the San Francisco Giants. St. Louis led the series three games to one before San Francisco stormed back to win three straight.
LaRussa had managed the Cardinals for 16 years. In that time he took them to the post season eight times. St. Louis advanced to the World Series in 2004, 2006 and 2011. They won it all in 2006 and 2011. LaRussa stepped down at the end of last season and turned over the reins to coach Mike Matheny.
Pujols was simply the Cardinals best player from 2001 to 2011. In that time he won everything from rookie of the year to most valuable player. In 11 years with St. Louis, Pujols batted .328 with 445 home runs and 1,329 runs batted in. He fell just short of becoming the first NL Triple Crown winner since 1937 in 2010. That season he led the league in home runs and RBI, but fell short in batting average.
Pujols’ October numbers are .330 with 18 home runs and 52 RBI. His most memorable game was a three home run performance against the Texas Rangers in the third game of the 2011 World Series.
Pujols became a free agent at the end of last season and signed with the Los Angeles Angels. This left the Cardinals without their future hall of fame manager and best player going into 2012.
St. Louis played well enough without LaRussa and Pujols to earn a wildcard under the new playoff format. The Cardinals finished fifth in the NL standings which earned them the last spot and a play-in game with the Atlanta Braves. St. Louis won that game and a five game divisional series with the Washington Nationals.
In the play-in and divisional series, LaRussa and Pujols were not missed. They may have been in the NLCS.
The Cardinals hitters never really got on track against San Francisco. They did score six runs in game one and eight in game four, but were held to three or less in the others. St. Louis was shut out in games five and seven. In the final three games of the series they scored one run. This probably would not have happened with Pujols in the lineup.
Matheny managed the ball club well this season. He got them back to the playoffs though many counted them out after a slow start. Matheny did a good job in getting St. Louis one game away from the World Series. Though, one could make a case that LaRussa would have closed the deal against the Giants we must remember that he had Pujols and Matheny did not.
No one can say for sure that LaRussa and Pujols would have carried the Cardinals back to defend their title. The Giants may have won anyway and deserve credit for a tremendous comeback.
However, one can not help but feel as though St. Louis got as far as they could in 2012 without LaRussa and Pujols. That was one game short of where they wanted to be.