St. Louis Cardinals: Road struggles a sign of dwindling NL Central dominance
Out of all the concerning trends to emerge from the St. Louis Cardinals this season, the most concerning is their uncharacteristic struggles on the road, especially in the division. This is not just a sign of a bad year, but of a franchise falling off of its throne in the NL-Central.
For the St. Louis Cardinals in particular, success on the road has been characteristic of the team for a long time. Being able to hold one’s own on the road is demonstrative of a team’s ability to dominate another, and this is no more so important than with the teams that are directly competing for your playoff spot: divisional rivals.
The Cardinals have a solid track record on the road in recent memory, picking up at least 38 road wins in six of the past eight seasons, which encompasses the last couple of years of Tony La Russa’s managerial career along with the entirety of Mike Matheny’s tenure.
Despite being over .500 on the road only half of the time, they have remained within a solid range of wins up until this season. Here is a list of the team’s record over the past eight seasons.
|Season||Overall Record (Place in NL Central)||Road Record|
The real difference between this year and some of the Cardinals’ other down years lies in how the Cardinals have matched up with the NL-Central so far on the road. No matter the year, the Cardinals always seem to be effective against their divisional opponents, and these wins have made up for struggling in less important non-divisional road series.
This year is different though. People have been saying that the NL-Central is falling out of the Cardinals’ hands and into those of the Cubs, and even after they won their World Series last season, I didn’t buy it. But taking a look at how the Cardinals have fared on the road this year against the NL-Central, I can see why people are starting to believe that.
|Season||Road vs. Divisional Opponent (Division Road Series W-L)||Runs Scored on Road vs NL Central per game||Runs Allowed on Road vs NL Central per game|
There is something different about the way the Cardinals have played this season. There has been nothing to build off of, and people have not gelled together at all. Unlike previous seasons, the Cardinals are getting consistently and soundly outplayed by the NL-Central on the road.
Building off of “happy flights” has been a big part of the Cardinals, and this is especially important against your division. That has not been a part of the 2017 Cardinals season, and they’ve struggled mightily to maintain any rhythm as a result.
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Another important idea is the reputation and intimidation factor that the Cardinals’ name brings. Being seen as a consistent, effective road team brings respect with it at all times. When a team is seen as more vulnerable, opponents will be less hesitant to be aggressive and jump on every opportunity they see.
The result of that is the significant difference in run differential vs NL-Central opponents on the road. However, this is not a problem that can be rectified, but just another problematic branch sprouting from a root of dysfunction that has been talked about all year.
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While I don’t see the deep-seated problems that are at the cause of these struggles being solved by years’ end, there is still time to reverse the damage. Hopefully Cardinals’ management will start to worry about this or other symptoms of being dethroned in the NL Central.