For those of you who might have been afraid that the Cardinals would peak too soon, you can relax. They answered their recent four-game winning streak with two humbling defeats in which they have been outscored 16-1. Somehow, they have managed to win 10 of their 21 September games, even though their hitting has come to an almost complete halt (a .236 average and 3.71 runs per game) while the team ERA has dwindled to 4.49. With another early exit by a starter, St Louis has managed 8 quality starts for the month.
The numbers after 153 games tell the story of a defiantly mediocre baseball team that is fading as the final month draws to a close.
They have lost the opening game of 5 of the seven series they’ve started this month, and are 22-28 (.440) for the season in game one of a series.
They have been held to less than four runs 12 times in 21 games this month – 9 times less than 3 runs. They have lost all 9 of those games. They have been held to less than 4 runs 29 times in the 65 games since the All-Star break.
The last 12 games have included three in the hitters’ paradise known as Colorado. In the first 2 games of the Rockies series, St Louis scored 15 runs. In the other ten games combined they have scored 17. In fact, remove the first two Colorado games and the team batting line since September 11 reads .188/.249/.276.
Conversely, they have surrendered 5 or more runs 10 times this month, 29 times since the All-Star Break, and 61 times this season.
In the month of September, St Louis is 6-2 when Carlos Martinez or Adam Wainwright start. They are 4-9 when anyone else does. Since the All-Star Break they are 16-9 (.640) in starts by Martinez or Wainwright, and 18-22 (.450) with anyone else.
With the Cubs scoring four times in the first, St Louis has now trailed at some point in 16 of their last 17 games. They have trailed at some point in 18 of 21 September games, 49 of the 65 second-half games, and 112 of the 153 they have played this season. They are 20-9 since the break when they score first, but have only done so 29 times in the last 65 games.
St Louis has now surrendered first inning runs in 4 straight games. Over their last 16 games, the team has a 7.31 first-inning ERA, followed closely by a 5.63 second-inning ERA. From that point on, the ERA is 3.70.
Conversely, they have held a lead at some point in 114 games this year, but have lost 34 of those games, anyway.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point.
If this were any other club, they could be written off. Not their year. But we have seen this team do this before. Throughout much of 2006 and 2011 the Cardinals were a painfully bad team to follow. They were also that team that never bowed to adversity. They believe that they are still that team.
What we are waiting on now is to find out if this team has that kind of character. If they do – if they claw their way into the playoffs and fight their way deep into October – the 2016 team will certainly add to the team’s legacy.
If they don’t, though, that will challenge one of the core beliefs that the organization has about the guts of this team. We will no longer be able to completely believe in the un-conquerable will and championship mettle of this team.
This is – I think – a very important point. These next nine games will not only decide whether this ragged team gets a shot at the post-season. These next nine games could alter the team’s identity for the next several seasons.