Cards eliminated from contention

Cards eliminated from contention

ST. LOUIS -- There were closer woes and injury news galore. But for five months, the Cardinals shook off adversity and kept themselves in legitimate playoff contention.

The quest didn't completely die until game No. 157 on Tuesday when the Mets knocked off the Cubs, officially eliminating St. Louis from the National League Wild Card race before its game against Arizona was concluded.

Two years removed from their 2006 World Series championship, the 2008 Cardinals will be remembered for fighting the good fight under trying circumstances. They were 74-60 on Aug. 28 before finally buckling under the injury avalanche in September.

"Our September record has not been good, but we played so well for five months," right-hander Todd Wellemeyer said.

It has been a year in which injury news stalled the hopes of longtime accomplished pitchers such as Jason Isringhausen, Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder. In addition, prize right-hander Adam Wainwright missed significant time because of a sprained finger.

The late-inning bullpen crew had a particularly tough time finding a consistent groove without Isringhausen being the type of reliable closer St. Louis fans had come to appreciate over the years. Going into Tuesday's game against Arizona, the Cardinals bullpen had 30 blown saves. That was the second-worst mark in the Majors. The Seattle bullpen had 31 blown saves.

But the Cardinals stayed in the race over a long, hot summer with less heralded starting pitchers stepping up. Kyle Lohse, Braden Looper and Wellemeyer continued to to deliver consistent, workmanlike outings and the hitters, led by MVP candidate Albert Pujols, showed a flair for the dramatic.

Pujols is having another remarkable season and manager Tony La Russa has jumped on the Pujols MVP bandwagon in a big way. Locked in a late-season battle with Atlanta's Chipper Jones for the batting title, Pujols was hitting .350 with 34 homers and 108 runs batted in through Tuesday.

"With all due respect, I don't think anybody else is close," La Russa said, reflecting on Pujols' MVP credentials.

Ryan Ludwick was the man entrusted with protecting Pujols in the batting order. With five games remaining, Ludwick is hitting .294 with 35 homers and 106 RBIs.

Catcher Yadier Molina, who has always been known for his defensive prowess, turned it on at the plate in 2008 with a .305 batting average through Tuesday.

Outfielder Skip Schumaker has been a .300 hitter in everyday duty and third baseman Troy Glaus had 25 homers and 93 RBIs through Tuesday while delivering solid defensive work.

Despite being limited to 413 at-bats because of injuries, outfielder Rick Ankiel finished his season with 25 homers and 71 runs batted in.

In the end, the Cardinals couldn't overcome the consistent losses of key personnel, especially in the pitching department.

But they battled and stayed in the race until the final week. Those who went through that process are eager to find out what a Cardinals club with better health and a few key additions could do in 2009.

Bob Falkoff is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.