St. Louis Cardinals: The team that cannot win close divisional games

Sep 30, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals General Manager talks with manager Mike Matheny prior to a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals General Manager talks with manager Mike Matheny prior to a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Cardinals are lost. Fixing the problem must start with questioning how we got here.  I have figured out the question, and this team over the next few weeks will provide the answer.

Approximately two months ago, I pronounced that the St. Louis Cardinals are better than the Chicago Cubs head to head.  In explaining my premise, I noted that every game between these two teams would be decided by two or fewer runs.

The St. Louis Cardinals have, thus far, proven part of my theory wrong.  The small bears recently swept our local nine.  Thus, a fairly even head-to-head record turned lopsided towards the annoying north-siders.

The other part of my theory continues to be true.  I specifically concluded that one thing is clear: these teams are evenly matched head-to-head. Fans should expect a plethora of close, exciting games.

Indeed, these two teams have a whopping ten games decided by three or fewer runs, with the only exception being a mid-May 5-0 victory for the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Cardinals, unfortunately, have allowed their sloppy play to manufacture just a 3-7 mark in those ten close games.

Close Games Against Other Central Division Teams:

What I did not realize, at the time of my last post, is that the St. Louis Cardinals would continue to play close games against all of their central division foes.  Indeed, the birds on the bat played another ten games with the Milwaukee Brewers decided by three or fewer runs resulting in a 4-6 mark.

Against the Cincinnati Reds, the good guys have six close games but mustered a 1-5 mark.  Finally, we are 3-0 against the Pittsburgh Pirates in games decided by three or fewer runs. Oddly enough, it was three straight 2-1 victories in an April sweep of the Buccos.

Close Games Overall:

Noticing a wider trend, I independently researched this phenomenon.  The St. Louis Cardinals have a current record of 30-35.  Out of their sixty-five games, forty-three of those games have been decided by three or fewer runs.  In those forty-three games, the Cardinals hold a mark of 20-23.

As highlighted above, the Cardinals muster only an 11-18 mark against the NL-Central.  Yes, you read that correctly.  That means outside of the division, the Cardinals hold a respectable 9-5 mark in close games (math is fun).

Even with the below-average performance in close games, and the abysmal performance in the division, the St. Louis Cardinals are only 4.5 games back of Milwaukee.

They are only two games back of the Cubs. Thus, I reiterate that this team is equally matched with the Chicago Cubs, and is slightly better head-to-head.

This team is simply too inconsistent to maximize its talents. The Cubs capitalized in the recent weekend series at Wrigley Field.

Two months ago, I set the over/under at 7 ½ more close games (after the initial season series).  so far there have been seven.

Is A Fix Available? Appropriate?

These statistics only identify the question about why this team has struggled.  Their performance in close games, in their division, leaves much desired, but is there a quick fix available on the trade market?  Is this team worth dumping prospects for an impact player?

For my money, there is no quick fix available.  This team is also not worth the dumping of prospects in a trade.

The losses suffered by this team, in both close and lopsided games, are equally shared by four major facets of the team (in order of culpability):

  • 1) the bullpen;
  • 2) shoddy defense/baserunning a.k.a. the fundamentals category;
  • 3) the offense; and
  • 4) the starting pitching.

You can quibble with me on two and three, but the losses are pretty evenly spread across these categories – with the starting pitching being somewhat of an outlier.

There is no magic bullet here.  There is not one player who can fix the St. Louis Cardinals.  The only way to improve the team is to make a deal that improves two to three areas listed above at one time.

If the Cardinals could, for example, trade for Lorenzo Cain and Kelvin Herrera of the Kansas City Royals, there would be more depth in the bullpen and a solid number three hitter in the lineup who can improve the entire outfield defense.

Absent a multi-player trade like that, this team is not worth a big acquisition, and should instead focus on limited selling (a la the Pirates last trade deadline), maximizing a return from New York, Washington, and the like for players like Seung-hwan Oh, Lance Lynn, and Trevor Rosenthal. Maybe jump over and check out Michael’s post too.

Next: What Mo will do to fix this team

Barring a cataclysmic roster shake-up via trade, this team needs to bear down in close games, and better its performance in the division to close the ever-widening gap between it and the top of national league central.