ST. LOUIS -- Pitching was the St. Louis Cardinals' strength all season. The arms failed them in the postseason.
The only starter manager Mike Matheny could really trust in the NL Division Series was John Lackey, and even that didn't pan out in the elimination Game 4.
"I can't get away from all the things we overcame to even get here," said ace Adam Wainwright, reduced to bullpen duty after making a remarkable comeback from a torn left Achilles in late April. "But losing is losing, so it's never easy."
Among the tough calls to come will be deciding whether to try to sign outfielder Jason Heyward to a long-term extension. Heyward was as advertised after coming in a trade from Atlanta, clutch at the plate and strong defensively.
Heyward believes St. Louis is an "ideal situation," but he's just 26 and could command triple digits. The Cardinals will have money free soon with one year remaining on Matt Holliday's seven-year, $120 million contract.
"I can't tell you what is going to happen," Heyward said. "I couldn't tell you a year ago I would've been here, but I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to play with these guys."
The 36-year-old Lackey had a career-best 2.77 ERA. He's also due for free agency and the team's level of interest isn't clear.
St. Louis led the majors with a 2.94 ERA but began springing leaks late in the season when 14-game winner Carlos Martinez was shut down for the rest of the year with a shoulder injury. After Lackey dominated in Game 1, allowing two hits in 7 1/3 innings, the starters the rest of the way were battered for 13 runs in a combined nine innings.
None of the five runs Jaime Garcia gave up in a disastrous Game 2 outing was earned, but it was the lefty's uncharacteristic misplays that led to the carnage.
Matheny went back to Lackey on short rest in Game 4 because he didn't have confidence in the other options, including Garcia after totaling just 45 pitches in Game 2, 12-game winner Lance Lynn or Tyler Lyons, who earned a roster spot with effective work down the stretch and pitched the Central Division clincher.
The Cubs clubbed 10 homers off a staff that was so airtight during the regular season, paving the way for a third straight division crown and a major league-high 100 wins.
"I definitely think the ballpark had something to do with this," said Lackey, noting the Wrigley "friendly confines" factor. "They also have a really good lineup."
Reliever Kevin Siegrist gave up three of the long balls in the series in just three innings.
"You can't pitch like that in the postseason, there is no excuse for that," Siegrist said. "I'll be better next year from it."
Injuries played a factor in the uncharacteristically early exit. The Cardinals had been to at least the NL Championship Series four straight seasons, including a World Series title in 2011 and a Series loss to Boston in '13.
"We had a lot of guys missing, but we're also a group of guys that are not going to make excuses," leadoff man Matt Carpenter said. "We just fell a little short."
All-Star catcher Yadier Molina was compromised by a strained left thumb ligament and was a lineup scratch for Game 4. Matt Adams was left off the roster after returning late in the year from a torn quadriceps, Holliday never regained his stroke coming off quad injuries that cost him nearly a half-season and Wainwright didn't have enough time to get his arm in shape for starting duty.
Molina scheduled a visit to the doctor Wednesday for an injury he admitted was "pretty bad."
In previous years, the team had better fortune. They won it all in '11 after qualifying for a wild card on the final day of the season.
"There is part luck," general manager John Mozeliak said. "You need some things to go right. For it wasn't meant to be, but you can't take anything away from this season as a whole."
The biggest plus was the emergence of all the young talent that filled the holes. Randal Grichuk profited greatly from regular playing time in the outfield, Stephen Piscotty hit three homers in the series after showing up big league-ready in July, and Tommy Pham also looks like a keeper.
The Cardinals might need more like it to keep up with the Cubs.
"I will be shocked if they're not in the World Series or winning it," Piscotty said.