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Is the Cardinals Winning Sustainable?

The St. Louis Cardinals have the best record in baseball. Are they that good, or just that lucky? We take a closer look. 

The St. Louis Cardinals have been on fire lately, and they’ve got the best record in baseball to go along with a 6.5 game lead in the NL Central division. Raise your hand if you’re surprised. This is just basically what they do. As a born-and-raised Cubs fan, it’s infuriating. But at least I can grasp it as a Chicago Blackhawks fan, because they kind of do the same thing. They always just seem to be there, tormenting divisional foes.

18 APR 2015: St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (38) as seen rounding 3rd base during the game between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals at the Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri.

But this year, it’s been worse. The Cardinals not only have a good team, but they’ve benefited from flukey plays. If you haven’t paid close attention, you may not totally understand what I’m talking about. The Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright to injury nearly two weeks ago, and since then their starting rotation has combined for a 4.82 ERA over 12 games. Somehow, the Cards went 9-3 in those games.

But that’s just getting started. Obviously, they have to be doing something right to win those games. They’ve had a lot of flukey hits end up as runs. Take for example, this RBI single by Yadier Molina, who started a swing and then stopped half-way.

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They’re even scoring runs by accident. Jake Arrieta gave up nine hits in 5.1 innings against the Cardinals yesterday, allowing four earned runs. But three of those nine hits were infield singles, and two of those runners came around to score. This kind of stuff has been the rule, not the exception, so far this year for the Cardinals. Common sense says that the good luck will come to an end at some point.

Another example is backup catcher Tony Cruz, who carries a career .581 OPS in 503 plate appearances. Imagine a player that’s bad enough at the plate that he gets an extra-base hit just six percent of the time, and you’ve got Cruz. Now look at the location of this pitch, and what he does with it.

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The Cardinals bullpen has been instrumental in their 21-7 start, as well. They have five guys that have pitched over 10 innings with an ERA under 1.50, and in 90.2 innings pitched, their overall bullpen ERA is 1.49. Take into account that the lowest team ERA for relievers over the last 10 years is the Atlanta Braves in 2013, at 2.46. That’s nearly an entire earned run higher than where the Cardinals are now.

But if that’s not enough to tell you that what that what they’ve done is completely unsustainable, let’s take a hard look at some of their better relievers.

2015 ERA 2015 FIP Career ERA 2014 ERA
Trevor Rosenthal 1.32 2.92 2.77 3.20
Kevin Siegrist 1.46 2.16 2.95 6.82
Matt Belisle 1.50 2.89 4.37 4.87
Carlos Villanueva 0.66 3.72 4.21 4.64
*Jordan Walden 0.87 1.98 3.00 2.88

 

*Walden is on the 15-day disabled list.

Make no mistake, those guys have been freakishly good. And for the most part, they have good career numbers as well. But in every single case, the 2015 FIP, career ERA, and 2014 ERA are all higher than where their ERA sits currently. In short, the Cardinals bullpen will not likely be able to continue at this kind of rate for a full season.

The early schedule for the Cardinals has been relatively light as well, having already played six games with the Brewers and four with the Phillies, the two worst teams in the National League. Overall, the combined records of the teams the Cards have played is 73-94. You could argue this point both ways, as those teams are a more-respectable 66-73 in games not played against the Cards. However, that’s still under .500, and I doubt anyone is going to seriously argue that the overall quality of the Cardinals opponents has been good.

April 24th, 2015: St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher Jordan Walden (53) [8210] throws a pitch as the Milwaukee Brewers take on the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park in Milwaukee, WI.

Eventually, all things even out over the course of 162 games. Weakly hit balls will drop for hits less and less, the bullpen will regress, and the Cards will end up having to play teams like the Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Giants, and Braves. The good news for fans in St. Louis is that they’ve built a serious lead in the division, and with the recent struggles of the Cubs relievers, there’s no clear threat to jump up and contend for a divisional title.

The Cardinals are a very good team that’s masquerading as an historically good team, and soon enough they’re going to come crashing back down to reality. The problem for the rest of the NL Central is that they’re still a very good team, and by the time they begin to regress they could have a double-digit lead. Barring some sort of tragedy, they’re in good shape to win the division.

So please join me and every other non-Cardinals fan in the world in hoping that the magic runs out soon. For the sanity of every baseball writer, fan, and observer, we cannot allow flukey baseball to continue. It needs to end, or the NL Central divisional race will, soon.





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