Looking back, 2012 was a fairly tumultuous year for the St. Louis Cardinals and their fan base. Nothing could top the incredible stretch run and eventual World Series Championship that 2011 bestowed upon Cardinal Nation, so last year seemed to have an air of tediousness surrounding it from the beginning. Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa were history, the injury bug bit hard once again and radically inconsistent play caused the team to finish nine games behind the rival Cincinnati Reds. Yet somehow the Cardinals still managed to come within one win of another trip to the World Series. Baseball’s unpredictable nature is what makes it truly entertaining, so with that in mind here is a look back at the 2012 season’s five biggest surprises (this week) and five biggest disappointments (next week). In my mind anyway.

Surprises (in no particular order)

1) The offense of Yadier Molina
Known predominantly for his unmatched defensive ability, Molina’s bat always played second fiddle, but over the past five years he quietly turned into a an offensive asset. In 2012 however he graduated to flat out dangerous. A gaudy line of .315-22-76-.874 made him the best offensive catcher in the game not named Buster Posey and showcased a
season that featured career highs in virtually every category. It also landed him a fourth straight All Star selection and fourth place in the NL MVP voting. His contract extension that may have seemed a bit lavish while the ink was fresh, now appears to be one of the better bargains in baseball. Still not sure where the power came from, but no one in Cardinal Nation is complaining.

2) The emergence of Trevor Rosenthal

A name that wasn’t really on anyone’s radar before spring training last year is now on the tip of every Cardinal fan’s tongue. Rosenthal and his 100 mph heater wowed everyone in spring and he nearly cracked the Opening Day big league roster. General Manager John Mozeliak thought he needed more seasoning though, so he started the season at Double-A. Then in mid July he quickly made the jump all the way to the majors and revamped a flailing bullpen. He finished with a 2.78 ERA, .175 batting average against, a 0.93 WHIP and 25/7 K/BB ratio in 22.2 innings. At just 22 years old the best is clearly yet to come and he could be a dominant rotation staple for years. Jake Westbrook needs to take a backseat first though.

3) The trade for Edward Mujica
By midseason the bullpen was leaking like a sieve and desperately needed to be remedied. Especially in the seventh inning department. Enter a lesser known middle reliever from the Marlins who patched the leak and turned a liability into a weapon. Mujica sparkled with a minuscule 1.03 ERA and 0.87 WHIP and fanned 21 batters against just three walks. He allowed just 20 hits in his 26.1 innings as a Redbird and is a big reason why the club made the playoffs. A move that seemed unimpressive at the time turned out to instrumental to the team’s success.

4) Jon Jay’s defense in centerfield
Jay had a solid year at the plate, hitting .305 and filling in nicely in the leadoff spot for the injured Rafael Furcal (.373 OBP and 19 steals), but his glovework was the real story. Not only did he cover a tremendous amount of ground (making up for the goofy-footed Matt Holiday and creaky-kneed Carlos Beltran) but he seemed to make a highlight reel catch every other night. He had some big shoes to fill after Jim Edmonds got shipped to San Diego, but has stepped his game up to Gold Glove caliber status. It’s a shame that he didn’t get much consideration in the awards department, but he doesn’t hit enough homeruns to be considered an elite defender by the voters. Ridiculous.

5) The Game 5 comeback against the Nationals

It was all doom and gloom in Cardinal Nation when a young, upstart Nationals club hung six quick runs on the Redbirds, seemingly dashing any hopes of returning to the NLCS. But the Birds eventually clawed their way back into the game. Once again down to their final strike, trailing 7-5 in the top of the 9th inning, some of that 2011 playoff magic miraculously resurfaced. Seemingly too good to be true, the Cards got to closer Drew Storen with a bases loaded single from Daniel Descalso to tie the game, followed by a steal and a Pete Kozma base hit that plated two more and set the stage for Jason Motte to slam the door shut. The “last strike” magic that seemed too impossible to be repeated once again sent Cardinal Nation into a frenzied state. Quite a surprise indeed.

Next week we’ll look at the more depressing side of the coin when I break down the season’s biggest disappointments.

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