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century city

last january, with the cards fresh off their first 100-win season in two decades, i took a look at 100-win teams and how they fared the following season. among other things, i learned how truly rare 100-win teams are. last jan'ry i wrote:

the cards are coming off their first 100-win season in 20 years, and only their third since world war 2. let me repeat that: in the last 60 years, the cards have topped 100 wins only three times.

just for the sake of comparison, the atlanta braves only have to go back to 1999 to count their last three 100-win seasons, and they've done it six times since 1993. but then, before 1993 the franchise had gone ninety-five years--back to 1898--without a single 100-win campaign. the oakland a's have won 100 twice in the 21st century and four times in the last 16 seasons -- but prior to that they accomplished the feat just once in more than half a century. the baltimore orioles did it five times in a span of 12 seasons (1969-80), but never before or since. the proud and successful los angeles dodgers haven't had a 100-win campaign since 1974; the boston red sox since 1946. the pittsburgh pirates have won three world titles and made 10 postseason appearances since 1960 without once winning in triple digits; they last did so in 1909, on a team captained by honus wagner.

well, now the cards have posted consecutive 100-win seasons, the 1st time they've achieved that feat since 1943-44. they are only the 13th team to win 100 back-to-back since divisional play began in 1969. kind of odd: in the 1st 12 years of divisional play (1969-80) six teams won 100 games in consecutive seasons; then nobody did it for 18 years, until the 1997-98 braves achieved the feat. in the eight summers since then, another six teams (not counting those braves) have gone century back-to-back.

another interesting fact about that divide: the repeat 100-win teams of the 1997-2005 era have fared much, much better in season 3 than their counterparts of 1969-1980. check out the "year 3 w-l" column below:

team yr 1 w-l gb/ga yr 2 w-l gb/ga yr 3 w-l place gb/ga 3d yr drop
balt 69-70 109-53 +19 108-54 +15 101-61 1st +12 7 wins
balt 70-71 108-54 +15 101-61 +12 80-74 3d - 5 17 wins*
cin 75-76 108-54 +20 102-60 +10 88-74 2d -10 14 wins
pha 76-77 101-61 +9 101-61 +5 90-72 1st +1.5 12 wins
yanks 77-78 100-62 +2.5 100-63 +1 89-71 4th -13.5 10.5 wins
balt 79-80 102-60 +8 100-62 -3 59-46 2d - 1 9 wins*
atl 97-98 101-61 +9 106-56 +18 103-59 1st +6.5 3 wins
atl 98-99 106-56 +18 103-59 +6.5 95-67 1st +1 8 wins
oak 01-02 102-60 -14 103-59 +4 96-66 1st +3 7 wins
atl 02-03 101-59 +19 101-61 +10 96-66 1st +10 5 wins
yanks 02-03 103-58 +10.5 101-61 +6 101-61 1st +3 0 wins
yanks 03-04 101-61 +6 101-61 +3 95-67 1st +0 6 wins

as you can see, no 100-100 team of the last decade has won fewer than 95 games in year 3. (the * in the table above, by the way, refers to baltimore's artificially low win totals in the strike-shortened years of 1972 and 1981; to calculate the 3d-year decline for those teams, i just extrapolated their win pct out to 162 games.) to summarize:

1969-80 1997-2005 overall
year-3 1st-place finshs 2 of 6 6 of 6 8 of 12
avg year-3 wins 91 97 94
avg year-3 decline 11.5 games 4.8 games 8.3 games

if the cardinals are just your average back-to-back 100-win team, then, we might expect them to win 92 to 95 games in 2006 and repeat as nl central champions.

but do the cards' extensive personnel changes require us to lower our expectations? not necessarily. take the two back-to-backers of 2002-03, the yankees and braves. heading into year 3, atlanta lost half of their ev'yday lineup -- c javy lopez, rf gary sheffield, 3b vinny castilla, and 1b robt fick -- and 2 starting pitchers (maddux and shane reynolds). so schuerholz traded for jd drew, stuck johnny estrada behind the plate, moved chipper back to 3b, plugged in adam laroche at 1b and went with a medley in lf (charles thomas and eli marrero, mostly). he also added jaret wright and paul byrd to the rotation. the result: 96 wins and another easy title.

meanwhile, the yankees in year 3 lost jason giambi to injuries / steroids, robin ventura to retirement, raul mondesi to free agency, and nick johnson and fonzie soriano via trade; but they added a-rod and sheffield and made do at 2b (miguel cairo), dh (roobie sierra) and 1b (tony clark) and in 2004 cruised to another 100-win season, their 3d in a row.

i take this kind of precedent pretty seriously; doesn't guarantee anything of course, but it underpins the view that the cardinals, despite an indifferent offseason to date, still have decent prospects in 06.