Calling the 2012 Cardinals season a failure because they didn't win the World Series is flawed logic. Yes, the Cardinals didn't repeat as World Champions. But they replaced one of the best players in franchise history in Albert Pujols this offseason, and one of their best players from last season, Lance Berkman, played in just 32 games, and their best pitcher from a year ago, Chris Carpenter, made only three starts. That's 14.9 fWAR that the Cardinals got essentially nothing out of in the regular season. And sure enough, they beat the heavily favored Braves in the Wild Card playoff, beat the 98-win Nationals in the NLDS after being down 6-0 in the deciding game five, and took the Giants to seven games in the NLCS before getting bounced. An 88 win team that didn't clinch a playoff berth until the second to last day of the regular season came within one win of the World Series…that's a pretty successful season.
What Went Right: After missing all of 2011 following Tommy John surgery, Adam Wainwright threw nealry 200 innings of 3.94 ERA ball, one of the best recoveries from the surgery over a full season I can remember. Kyle Lohse improved upon a good 2011, and had the best season of his career at age 33. Lance Lynn's conversion from a reliever to a starter went pretty well, and he still managed to strike out a batter per inning in the rotation. Jason Motte led a mostly solid bullpen, along with Mitchell Boggs, midseason aquisition Edward Mujica, and fireballing rookie Trevor Rosenthal. Yadier Molina had an MVP caliber year, adding incredible offense to his incredible defense. Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, and Carlos Beltran combined to form an above average outfield. Despite missing most of the first two months of the season, Allen Craig showed fantastic power while starting mostly at first place. Pete Kozma was a revelation at shortstop during his final month, though a .415 BABIP tempers expectations a bit.
What Went Wrong: Jaime Garcia missed a third of the season with a shoulder injury, and went out again during the playoffs. Lance Berkman only played 32 games, making $12 million in the process. Rafael Furcal struggled throughout the year, and got hurt at the end of August to finish his season. The Cardinals didn't get a whole lot out of second base, where Daniel Descalso, Skip Schumaker, and Tyler Greene got most of the playing time. Chris Carpenter made only three starts, and didn't look like the same guy he was last season in those three starts.
Most Surprising Player: I think Lance Lynn will qualify here. After 12 starts in AAA in 2011, Lynn was called up to the majors to serve out of the Cardinals bullpen where he did a fine job. He was pressed into service in the rotation for 2012, and all Lynn did was post his highest strikeout rate as a starter (9.20 batters per nine) since a five appearance, two start stint in 2009 in high-A. While his walk rate was a little high, it was completely manageable, and Lynn was a valuable part of the Cardinals rotation this season.
Most Disappointing Player: I'm not sure *how* disappointing he was if you look at his last few seasons…but Rafael Furcal slogged through this season. His 1.2 fWAR was just 50% more than he had in 2011 with the Cardinals in less than half as many games. His ISO fell from .163 with the Cardinals last year to .082 this season, and it was just an all-out disappointing season in comparison to last year with the Cardinals. To be fair, the 121 games he played in were his second-most since 2008, and he turns 35 on Wednesday. This wasn't what the Cardinals or fans expected at all after his 2011, though.
Prospects Up: Shelby Miller regained his top prospect status after a shaky start to the season, finishing August in AAA by striking out 53 and walking just four (!!!!) in 37 1/3 innings, then spending September in the majors and striking out 16 in 13 2/3 innings. Oscar Tavares turned 20 in June and spent the year at AA, posting a .952 OPS for the season with 23 homers and 11 stolen bases while sending his walk and strikeout rates in the right direction. Carlos Martinez turned 21 in September, split the year between high-A and AA, and finished with 92 strikeouts and 32 walks in 104 1/3 innings. 22-year old Trevor Rosenthal smashed his way through AA, made a pit stop in AAA, and finished the year in the major league bullpen, dominating hitters for the Cardinals and potentially ensuring himself a spot on the Opening Day roster for 2013.
Prospects Down: The Cardinals continued to limit 2010 supplemental first round pick Tyrell Jenkins' innings, and while he struck out nearly a batter per inning in A-ball, he walked a few too many hitters. 2011 first round pick Kolten Wong saw his power fall off, but his overall numbers were still close to respectable.
Overall: The Cardinals team you saw this year will be pretty much the Cardinals team you see in 2013. Berkman is a free agent and I think retirement will be on the table for him, and Lohse is also a free agent that probably won't be re-signed thanks to the organization's tremendous young pitching depth. This team will compete again next season, so I hope you're not sick of them quite yet.