Like many of you, I suspect, I have a weakness for Opening Day in St. Louis. I can usually do without pomp and circumstance but for this I make an exception. In fact, I want more. I don't know why the Clydesdales do laps around the field to the tune of organ music but if I was running the shebang that part would last for two hours. And while it hasn't been quite the same since Stan Musial passed away before the 2013 season, seeing all of the legends present in their red blazers represents everything that is great about this organization. This year especially so with Lou Brock throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after having his left leg amputated below the knee in November.
I almost don't even need the game. But the game is why all of this matters in the first place and on Monday the Cardinals got off on the right foot at home by crushing the hapless Milwaukee Brewers 10-1 in their home opener. The game stopped being close soon after Lou threw that first pitch to Ted Simmons, and, as Derrick Goold noted, at one point in the third inning the Cardinals had more extra base hits (8) than they did outs (7) which seems like a truly remarkable feat any time after the second inning.
All of this brings us back to another reason why Opening Day, and more importantly, baseball in St. Louis is great: If the Cardinals are playing at home, and last night's frustrating 6-4 loss notwithstanding, it means they're likely going to win.
Since Mike Matheny became manager of the Cardinals in 2012 they have played far and away better at home than any other team. To no huge surprise, second place is the pesky division-mate Pittsburgh Pirates. I highlighted last week that PNC Park has been a tough place to steal a win the last few years, which is why the opening series sweep suffered by the Cardinals in Pittsburgh was neither surprising nor alarming, but Busch Stadium has been even more unfriendly for visitors.
Home records from 2012-2015 as ranked by win percentage:
As noted above, only the Pirates have surrendered less runs (three less, in fact) since 2012, but the Cardinals have scored 130 more which is the fourth most in the National League. In fact, the Cardinals' 302 run differential at home is 51 runs better than the second best Washington Nationals. To that end the Cardinals are the only team to have a home Pythagorean Winning Percentage better than .600.
This seems like a natural byproduct of a very successful organization. In this same timeframe, the Cardinals have won more games than anyone (375-273), including eleven more wins than the second place Los Angeles Dodgers. (Interestingly enough, since 2012, none of the top nine teams by combined winning percentage have won a World Series: SFG (2012, 2014) - 10th; KCR (2015) - 11th; BOS (2013) - 19th;
CHC - (2016) - 25th.) But a lot of this damage has been done at home as they have only been the sixth best team on the road.
Away records from 2012-2015 as ranked by win percentage:
The Cardinals have a .139 difference in winning percentage on the road vs. at home which has been the second largest disparity in baseball behind the Colorado Rockies (.154) and what's likely the Coors effect. Looking at Pythagorean Winning Percentage, the Cardinals are second best on the road to the Dodgers suggesting they have played better than their record indicates, and their disparity with their actual winning percentage is the fourth largest in baseball and second largest for teams with winning records on the road. It wouldn't completely shock me if Matheny manages a bit differently on the road in close games to a negative effect but that's for someone smarter than me to figure out.
Why the Cardinals have been able to win nearly 65% of their games at Busch Stadium the last four years is not entirely clear beyond the simple fact that they've been good overall. It has been considered a pitcher's park. Goold pointed out yesterday when discussing Michael Leake that Busch Stadium ranked 20th in park factors for runs scored in 2015, and the Cardinals have complimented that with strong pitching staffs. They've finished in the top five in the NL in run prevention every year since 2012, including first last year. But Busch Stadium is also about as plain or neutral of a park as there is in baseball. There are no quirks like the Green Monster which might benefit the home team simply because they're more familiar with it. And it doesn't have odd dimensions or Astroturf, which Whitey Herzog used to his advantage when constructing the great Whiteyball teams of the 80s.
Thing is, I don't need a specific reason if you don't. So long as the Cardinals can continue to dominate at home, particularly, as Ben Godar noted yesterday, against the teams that are more or less tanking, while keeping their head above water on the road, they should be able to continue their streak of playing into October.