ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals, though picked by many to finish as National League Central champs, navigated to that end in an unexpected way as they posted a 100-plus-win season. With the Cards in the postseason for a franchise-record fifth straight season and preparing to host the Pirates or Cubs in the National League Division Series beginning on Oct. 9, here is a look back at five events that changed the season.
1. Adam Wainwright tears his left Achilles tendon
The pop that Wainwright felt as he broke from the batter's box during an April 25 outing in Milwaukee changed the well-laid rotation plans the Cardinals had made. Their ace was lost for the season (or so everyone was told), and the club was left to collectively pick up the slack. And in historic fashion, they did.
Without Wainwright, the Cards have boasted the best starting rotation in baseball with a 2.99 ERA through 159 games. John Lackey became the veteran voice and stepped up as a pseudo ace on the field. Jaime Garcia became a factor again. Carlos Martinez made great strides in his young career.
And that season-ending diagnosis? Wainwright never believed it. His dedication to defy the odds showed in his summer rehab work and has him positioned to change the season again -- this time with a role in St. Louis' October bullpen.
2. Oscar Taveras dies tragically in an October 2014 car accident
Once the Cardinals emerged from the shock of losing a budding young prospect, general manager John Mozeliak had to address what the loss meant on the baseball side. Taveras' absence left a hole in right field, prompting Mozeliak to give up 10 years of pitching control to land Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden.
An injury prevented Walden from making much of an impact, but Heyward has been a key contributor on both the offensive and defensive ends. He leads all right fielders with 21 Defensive Runs Saved and tops the club with a 5.6 WAR. This trade didn't only bring over Heyward, but it also opened up a rotation spot that Martinez seized. Martinez, in a season he dedicated to Taveras, posted a 3.01 ERA before a shoulder injury ended his season.
3. Matt Holliday strains his right quadriceps muscle -- twice
After opening the year by getting on base in an NL-record 44 consecutive games, Holliday found himself appearing in few more. He suffered the initial quad injury going after a flyball on June 8 and then reinjured it on July 29, just 11 games into his return. While the Cardinals' offense lagged at times without him, Holliday's absence opened the door for Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty to show they were capable everyday players.
From the date Holliday first went down until Grichuk went on the disabled list with an elbow injury, the rookie outfielder led the club in homers (13), extra-base hits (30) and RBIs (34). Piscotty provided a similar boost upon his callup on July 21. Filling in as an outfielder and first baseman, Piscotty is second on the team in hits (71) and RBIs (39) since his Major League debut.
4. Garcia returns to the mound and finally stays on it
Having made just 16 appearances over the past two seasons, Garcia was a wild card in the Cardinals' season plans. They hoped he could contribute but knew better than to count on it. A setback late in spring left Garcia stuck in Florida while the team went north planning for a season without much from him. But this time Garcia did return and, with the exception of a month-long groin injury, he became a reliable presence in the rotation again.
Garcia has won 10 of the 19 starts he made, and the Cards were victorious in all but six. The lefty posted a 2.36 ERA and allowed or two or fewer runs in 13 of those starts. Garcia's return gave a needed new look in a rotation that has been anchored by all righties and also precluded the club from having to seek for starting pitching help at the Trade Deadline.
5. Trevor Rosenthal abandons pitching out of the windup
The suggestion was made to the Cardinals closer in Spring Training that he pitch exclusively out of the stretch, as the Cards hoped the shift would cut down on how many first batters faced reached against him. It did, dropping from 39 percent in 2014 to 28 percent this season. The result was fewer complicated innings and a dominant season by the second-year closer.
Rosenthal set the single-season save record with his 48th save on Monday and was a large reason why the Cardinals lost only one game when leading after eight innings. The simplification of his delivery also helped Rosenthal lower his WHIP (1.408 in 2014; 1.267 in '15) and walk rate (5.4 per nine innings in 2014; 3.3 per nine innings in '15).