Alas, it was a great run — thrilling, to say the least.  It’s hard to be a sports fan; for every up there seem to be five downs, and the triumphs come sparingly.  We’ve been treated to some great baseball by our Cardinals, and while this certainly wasn’t the way it was supposed to end, there are a lot of reasons to be proud of this ball club and be excited about it moving forward.

Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan, and Albert Pujols are all gone.  Lance Berkman and Chris Carpenter were gone for most of the year.  Yet still, this team was one game away from a second consecutive World Series.  Remarkable.  We shouldn’t be a city that gets angry with our players for not making the World Series every year.  No, we shouldn’t be content with finishing short, but there is no reason to throw a fit and storm away from a team that has been so good to us.  Let’s be proud of this team and be excited about how darn good they can be not only next year, but in many years to come.

The Cards have four of the best young arms in baseball in Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, and Carlos Martinez (at Triple-A).  These guys are straight up nasty, as evidenced by their dominant postseason.  Imagine these guys spearheading a rotation that is rounded out by Adam Wainwright?  Pretty fun.  Next year, we will probably see Kelly and/or Miller move into the rotation with Kyle Lohse most likely gone, and Martinez will at some point get the call to the big leagues.  Further, the pitching will only get increased by Carpenter pitching a full year and Wainwright completely healed and re-adjusted following his Tommy John.  I think next year we see Adam return to his 20 win, mid 2’s ERA next season.  This rotation could be really strong next year, especially if Jaime Garcia can ever figure out how to pitch a game on the road.  Here’s what it will look like:  Wainwright, Carpenter, Garcia, Kelly/Miller, Westbrook/Miller (Westbrook may end up becoming a reliable middle-innings reliever out of the bullpen).  It’s an exciting prospect.

How about on the other side of the ball?  You’ve got a young star in Allen Craig at first, who is blossoming into quite the player, Descalso at second, and Freese at third.  The main concern in the infield is Shortstop.  What is the long term solution here?  You have one more good year from Furcal, but he will probably play closer to half the games then all of them, and I don’t think Pete Kozma is a dependable replacement.  Yes, he batted .333 in September, but in his career at Triple-A he swung a lowly .232.  He is a prized fielder, but look at what he’s done this postseason… my heart skips a beat every time he touches the ball.  I just don’t think he can consistently get it done.  Mozeliak should find a solid replacement to take a place on the 40-man roster at the beginning of the year to give Kozma some competition.

This brings me to my main point of concern for the Cardinals: consistency.  That was the main flaw this year, and that needs to be solved.  Yes, teams are permitted games in which they don’t produce, but to go out there and do that for three consecutive nights, as they did at times in the season and as we just saw in their collapse, is just not a winning formula.  Holliday, Jay, and Beltran provide a solid outfield for next season, with Oscar Taveras climbing his way into the MLB to replace Beltran in 2014.  Where does Berkman fit in to all this? There are three players: Craig, Beltran, and Berkman, all vying for two spots.  Berkman seems like the odd man out.  Is he potentially on his way out of St. Louis, especially with guys like Taveras who are expected to come up to the majors this year?

I think the area that needs to be addressed the most is the bullpen.  Yes, they are great now, but with one, two, or maybe even three of the young guys getting thrown into the rotation, there needs to be some stability in the bullpen.  Mujica, Boggs, and Motte are a fantastic core, and I think Salas should rebound nicely from a sophomore slump.  Mark Rzepczynski is a highly unreliable Lefty, and I think this is what Mozeliak needs to address the most.  He needs to bring in one or two lefty arms to the bullpen that can hold down a game solidly.  With that, and Rosenthal, Miller, and/or Westbrook in the bullpen, it could be very strong.

Look, there just aren’t a lot of holes on this team moving forward.  There’s a lot of young talent, and it’s talent that we can be excited about.  The rotation will be solid, and the bats should be there.  Molina keeps getting better with the bat and is as good as ever behind the plate.  Mike Matheny knows a lot more than he did 12 months ago about how to manage a team, and this club now knows what it takes to close a series after taking a lead.  I think that one year from now, there is a very reasonable chance we are celebrating instead of moping.  With the added Wild Card, it’s very hard to see the Cards missing the postseason anytime in the near future.

Here’s to 2013 and a great Baseball team.  Thanks for a great season.  Go Tigers.