So, not really wanting to talk about the WonderBrad implosion from last night, I have decided to spend my free time looking to find precedent for a comeback. It's a little tricky, as the starters were actually decent through the first month, but had their efforts ruined by a randomly slumping offense. But I'm inclined to just call that a blip, as the non-Rolen offense is now pretty much performing as expected, while the non-Carp rotation was considered somewhat shaky going into the season.
So, is it possible for a team to rise like a phoenix from the ashes to come and make the playoffs, or even to make the world series? Here is a key example:
The 2005 Houston Astros: As of June 13, 2005, the Astros stood with a record of 26-36, a good 1.5 games worse than the current Cardinals' record of 27-34. So that's already good news: they managed to come back, and didn't sneak in in a horrible division, they won 89 games, which would have won the west that year, and would have been a half game back in the East. This example at least establishes that it's possible to dig yourself out of a hole of this magnitude. Furthermore, you can't even directly chalk up the 2005 Astros' recovery to bad luck--as of June 13, 2005, they were only slightly underperforming their Pythagorean win expectancy of .425--a middling-to-poor pitching performance (8th in the NL--though with a team ERA in the 5.xx range), combined with a truly anemic offense (fewest runs scored in the majors, by a margin of twenty).
So, what happened after that? Well, the day by day database informs us that their starters posted an overall 3.11 ERA for the rest of the season. The thing is, however, the offense didn't really get all that much better--it actually got worse--going from 4.4 runs per game to 4.2, but the quality pitching was enough to drive their run differential up to ~+30%, good for a pythagorean record of 71-39 for the stretch run.
So, can the 2007 St. Louis Cardinals follow this model? It actually seems a lot closer than I thought it would be. The records are almost identical the cardinals currently stand in a three way tie for 6th place in runs allowed, though with a horrible ERA. The '05 Astros got a great stretch run out of Clemens (.300 SLG down the stretch), Pettite (.550 OPS against), and to a lesser extent, Oswalt. The Cardinals don't have those kind of guns in the rotation, but they also have a better offense than that Astros team.
Carpenter, if healthy, is certainly capable of matching the Pettite/Clemens performance. Reyes/Wainwright certainly have the talent to put together a stretch run. If Braden Looper and the rest of the relief army is capable of holding on, if the team makes a trade for a quality starter, and/or Mulder comes back pitching well...
Perhaps the team just might have a chance of coming back from this disaster, after all.
Or perhaps I'm just distracting myself from a game where a converted reliever gave up eight runs to the damn Royals.