The Cardinals ended the 2012 season with one of the most robust lineups in the game but, by their own admission, the route they took to those high-ranking totals was inconsistent, even volatile.

They had their deluges of runs. They had their droughts.

They had their feasts of power. They had their famines of bunts.

It was a riddle that manager Mike Matheny said he would take into the winter and try to solve as he evaluated the season that was. Over the past few days of reporting a story for an upcoming edition of the Post-Dispatch, I heard a variety of views on the topic. Some pointed to the fact that the offense hit the snooze button on days the pitcher was dominant or at least dictating. Others sided with the idea that over the course of a season a lineup is going to struggle at times. Slumps happen. The ends justify the means.

The ends were pretty good:

765 runs (2nd in NL)

.271 average (2nd)

.338 OBP (1st)

.421 SLG (4th)

.759 OPS (3rd)

The Cardinals accomplished that while playing 81 home games at what is widely considered a pitcher-leaning park. The teams the Cardinals finished behind in OPS, average, and runs were Colorado (the Coors Field Factor) and Milwaukee, where not only do the Brewers have a hearty lineup but also a lovely ballpark to hit, according to batters.

The Cardinals bring back the major components of last year's lineup, including the five interchangeable parts in the middle: Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, and David Freese. All five of them hit at least 20 home runs last season -- the first time in club history that they've had that many 20-HR hitters. The overall production of the Cardinals' lineup is not an isolated event. Since Holliday joined in 2009 and Mark McGwire took over as hitting coach, the Cardinals have been able to maintain a stout offense even with the departure of three-time MVP Albert Pujols.