The Cardinals finished their regular season on a 47-27 run, won the National League Central and returned to the postseason for the first time since 2015. They beat Atlanta in the NL Division Series and scored 10 runs in the first inning of a Game 5 13-1 smashing of the Braves.
But when they got to the NL Championship Series against the Nationals, the Cardinals fell apart.
The Nationals beat them 7-4 in Game 4, giving Washington a sweep and the city its first pennant since 1933, when the American League Senators won. Another first was that the Cardinals were swept in the NLCS. That’s significant considering the Cardinals have played in 14, including 10 since the year 2000.
This one is the easily the most forgettable for the Cardinals. It was a case of the Nationals, a hot team with superb pitching, beating a team that had gone cold, mostly because of the Nationals’ pitching.
“We didn’t hit the ball the whole series,” catcher Yadier Molina said. “We have to give the Nationals pitchers credit.”
The Cardinals offense struck out 14 times, including first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who fanned seven consecutive times over two games. The Cardinals lineup hit one home run while averaging .130 with a .374 OPS.
“We didn’t play our best, but we have to give the Nationals credit because they played better,” Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong said.
The first inning Tuesday night was trouble for the Cardinals.
Nationals starter Patrick Corbin struck out the first three Cardinals batters, all swinging. In the bottom of the first, the Nationals scored seven runs, three of them unearned.
Five pitches into the inning, the Nationals scored their first run when Trea Turner singled, Adam Eaton doubled and Anthony Rendon hit a sacrifice fly.
Defense was a problem. Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong dropped a throw from third baseman Tommy Edman. Then, when the Nationals’ Victor Robles hit a fly into shallow right that should have been caught, it fell between Wong and José Martínez.
Martínez was asked what happened on Robles’ ball.
“It just dropped,” he said. “We should have caught it. It didn’t happen.”
The Cardinals created drama in the top of the eighth, but Nationals closer Daniel Hudson struck out pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter with the bases loaded.
“It was kind of like 2012,” Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said, referring to the 2012 NLDS between the two teams when the Cardinals erased a 6-0 lead and won Game 5 9-7 at Nationals Park.
Wainwright, 38, pitched in relief of Dakota Hudson in the seven-run first inning. After he left for a pinch-hitter, Wainwright went to the clubhouse and did his usual postgame routine because “I really believed we were going to come back and win this game.
“I feel all these guys in here because we battled together all year. Our goal was to get to the World Series so we are all disappointed.”
Wainwright went 14-10 with a 4.19 ERA in a resurgent season for his career. He was asked if he planned on coming back next season.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” Wainwright said.
Molina, another longtime Cardinal, hopes that Wainwright will return for another season: “I think he can still pitch.”
Two rookies - Tommy Edman and Hudson - were quiet and disappointed.
“I disappointed we didn’t play as well as we have played this season,” said Edman, who made the final out and trotted across the infield as Nationals players stormed onto the field and the ballpark went crazy.
Hudson, a rookie with 16 wins, was able to get one out before Cardinals manager Mike Shildt came to the mound to take him out in the first inning Hudson said he was sorry he couldn’t get length to his start.
Shildt’s message to Hudson on the mound?
“He told me that I had a good year and that I had a lot of impact on why the team is here,” Hudson said. “They were nice words to hear.
“I’ve got a lot to learn. I look around this room and see everyone and I hope they all come back. We started to jell in the middle of the season. We have a lot to look forward to next year.”