Lots of Winning Teams Early

Tonight the Cardinals – ok, the first-place Cardinals – will open the last series of their season’s second homestand.  As homestand’s go, this one has been quite productive (St Louis has won five of the first six).  They will be welcoming the Reds of Cincinnati for their first visit of the season, and will be laying their gaudy 15-9 record on the line.

With so much baseball left to be played, it’s a little treacherous to draw any serious conclusions from anything witnessed so far.  That being said, it is usually about this time of the season that I start to separate out the games played against winning teams – or at least against .500 teams. These games serve as a litmus test of sorts, giving a general idea of who rises to the level of the better competition and who does not.

For the first 24 games of the season, that separation won’t show very much.  That is because, going into tonight’s contest against the 10-14 Reds, the Cards have played only two games all year against teams that have lost more than they have won.

All of the interest in the early-season schedule involved all of the early games against Milwaukee – and 10 of these first 24 have been against the Brewers.  But the Brewers are only part of the early season gauntlet run by the Cardinals.  To this point, they have only lined up against one team that currently sports a losing record.  That team would be the Reds who they played a couple of times in Mexico.

In fact, when considered against the records of their opponents in games against other teams, St Louis’ early success becomes even more impressive:

Cardinal Opponent Record against everyone else
Team W L W-L%   Team W L W-L%  
LAD 4 0 1.000   LAD 16 7 .696  
MIL 5 5 .500   MIL 8 8 .500  
NYM 2 1 .667   NYM 12 9 .571  
PIT 2 0 1.000   PIT 12 9 .571  
SDP 1 2 .333   SDP 12 10 .545  
  14 8 .636     60 43 .583  


Against everyone except Cincinnati, the Cards are 14-8 (a .636 winning percentage).  Those teams – as the chart indicates – are playing .583 ball against everyone else.

Of course, there is no promise that everyone over .500 right now will still be over .500 even by this time next month.  The Dodgers and Brewers, of course were division champs last year, and the last two teams standing in the National League.  The Pirates won 82 games last year and seem to be better.

The Mets and Padres, of course, both had losing records last year, but both look much different in 2019.  San Diego has added Manny Machado to go along with the rise of 20-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr.  Meanwhile, the Mets have seen the emergence of their own young superstar in Pete Alonso.

It is, of course, impossible at this early stage of the season to tell for sure who is legit and who will fade.  But right now all of these teams are playing quite well. And the Cardinals are beating them.

In fact, the high concentration of winning teams on the early schedule presents a unique challenge to this blog.  Here, we poke inside of the numbers to pull out their secrets.  But the level of competition at the moment is so skewed that seemingly significant statistical trends could just be anomalies.

For example, through 24 games and 213 innings, the Cardinal pitching staff has already surrendered a surprising 46 home runs.  They allowed only 144 all of last season.  The rotation’s ERA of 4.80 ranks twenty-first out of 30 major league teams.

But, St Louis has played 10 games against a Milwaukee team that is second in baseball with 51 home runs, and the Dodgers (against whom they have played four times) are next in baseball with 46.  Those two teams alone have accounted for 30 of the 46 home runs off of St Louis.

As the season goes forward, these numbers will normalize.  Until that time, some of this will have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Up next is Cincinnati and Washington (11-12) before St Louis plays its next team that currently holds a winning record – that would be the 12-11 Cubs.  They will be followed by another string of teams that currently are at least at .500 – Philadelphia (13-12), Pittsburgh, Atlanta (12-12) and Texas12-12).

It is way too early to predict that any of these records will hold up.  If they do, however, the Cardinals will find themselves battling .500 or better teams in 38 of their first 47 games.  Along the way, we should get a pretty good of what this team is made of.

Scoring Changes So Far – For Those of you Scoring at Home

There have only been two early scoring changes to be aware of – if you follow this sort of thing.

In the second game of the season – in the fourth inning – a pitch from Jack Flaherty eluded catcher Yadier Molina.  At the time it was ruled a passed ball, but has been subsequently changed to a wild pitch.

Last Monday (April 22), the Cards carried a 5-4 lead into the seventh inning against Milwaukee.  Matt Carpenter opened the inning with a flare over third base.  By the time the Brewers got the ball back in, Matt was on second.  Originally ruled a double, that call has been changed to an error charged to Ryan Braun.  The hit/error set the stage for the 7-run inning that would push that game out of reach.

Carpenter loses both the hit and the double.  Milwaukee pitcher Jacob Barnes is spared a hit and an earned run, and the Brewer pitching staff gets another of those runs flipped from earned to unearned.

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