The 2015 season comes to a close

The final out was recorded and the Chicago Cubs celebrated on the field, clinching their first postseason series victory in 12 years and their first series clinching victory ever at Wrigley Field. Congratulations to the Cubs and their fans. I just hope that they don’t get used to it.

The saving grace for Cardinals fans of the loss–or just me, at least–is that it was a good series.

Neither team rolled over. Both teams played hard. The games went back and forth. Games weren’t over until the final outs were recorded. It was everything you could want in the first postseason matchup between longtime rivals. It didn’t disappoint in any way. Except the outcome.

So with the season officially over for the St. Louis Cardinals, we turn our attention to the offseason and diagnosing what was the cause for the early season exit and the Cardinals’ seeming step backwards.

The popular course of action will be to blame manager Mike Matheny for the team’s failures late in the season and into the postseason. In my opinion, that’s the lazy option and it fails to account for the realities of the situation that Matheny was in with a tight division race and many of our key players returning from injury.

Could he have made better decisions? Sure. But while many of the decisions he made were questionable, they weren’t obviously the wrong decision. They just had bad outcomes.

In the Divisional Series, the Cubs got to enjoy a worn out Cardinals’ pitching staff that had to keep the foot on the gas until the very last weekend of the season to secure the division. We saw the strain in September of that battle as the league’s best pitching staff posted their first monthly ERA higher than 3.00 with a 4.18 ERA in September and October.

The keys of the pitching staff, like Michael Wacha (7.88 ERA), Trevor Rosenthal (6.48) and Seth Maness (6.75), led the charge of guys that struggled.

Things may have also turned out differently if Matheny had had the luxury of resting these guys more in the second half of the season. Instead, they had to battle to the end and September was spent balancing playing time for guys returning from the DL and the need to win baseball games.

Winning the division was the goal. Matheny succeeded in that. But it probably cost us the postseason.

The final injury may have been the fatal blow to the Cardinals as well. All combined, the Cardinals had nine members of it’s Opening Day roster spend time on the disabled list, including their #1 starter as well as their #3 and #4 hitters.

Carlos Martinez being shut down in September turned out to be a big deal. Once the team struggled through Game 2, the lack of another dependable starting pitcher reared it’s head. Martinez, along with Lackey and Garcia, were the only three starting pitchers who were strong through September.

The trouble left the Game 4 starter in question. And it’s potentially very telling that Lance Lynn wasn’t trusted to take that start.

In the end, the Cardinals had their opportunities to win this series and failed. Take back just a couple pitches and the results of Games 3 and 4 swing drastically. The Cubs took advantage and that’s what good teams do. The Cubs were better. The trouble in actually admitting that is the potential that they’ll be very good for a few more years at least.

The offseason brings the Cardinals more questions than answers. Will they bring back Jason Heyward? What happens with John Lackey and Jaime Garcia? What does the future hold for Lance Lynn? Who is the answer at first base? How does the bullpen sort out for 2016 with lots of potential turnover?

With all the questions, this could easily be John Mozeliak’s busiest offseason as the Cardinals’ GM.

During his tenure, he has never faced a rival team that was built for sustained success. Until now.

It should be interesting to see how he responds.