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How the Cardinals killed my optimism

I believed the Cardinals had a good shot at the postseason, but their will-they/won’t-they roller coaster season has killed my optimism.

St Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Since they are “my team,” I always try to have a positive outlook on the Cardinals. Look at what they have and how great it could be! It’s just that this team has failed on the follow-through. Two weeks ago, I thought hope was very much alive for St. Louis. Then they lost to the Reds and got swept by the Cubs and their postseason hopes tanked again. I squeezed in two episodes of my favourite show, “Yuri on Ice,” last Sunday before the Cardinals game began. In the second episode, Yuri says, “If you’ve got no inspiration, you’re as good as dead.” So here is the eulogy for my optimism:

Do you remember that the Cardinals began the year 3-9? I do, but I also remember hope. April carried twelve losses, but it also carried the promise of the five months to come. According to Fangraphs, their season playoff odds reached a season high on May 15th at 68.5 percent. They reached that peak after winning two consecutive games against the Cubs, for a total of eight wins in their previous nine games. Since they overtook the Cubs, the team with the highest odds, their chances skyrocketed.

May turned into June, and then Yadi put the National League on the board in the All Star Game in July. The Cardinals kept their own pace, watching the Brew Crew and Cubs like:

“Actually, you’re both far more ordinary and mediocre than you think.”

Which was true. The Cubs dipped to their lowest on July 10th, odds at 62.8 percent, also when my optimism reached its season high. (Cubs losses will do that.) Even as the Cardinals’ odds continued to fluctuate while they played only .500 baseball in their eight games before the All-Star break. Milwaukee’s postseason odds did not outweigh the Cardinals’ until July 15th, when they peaked at a season-best 35.8 percent. That lead lasted all of two days.

The Cardinals’ postseason odds never got above thirty percent in July. The last half of the month and first bit of August was like that part of a roller coaster that jerks you around so fast you can’t tell which way is up anymore. Day-to-day it went from twenty percent to twenty-five percent to seventeen percent. It was always low and frustrating until we got a few days into August and the Cardinals started to win again. Their postseason odds jumped up and up every day until they reached 42.8 percent in the middle of the month. That peak coincided with the eight-game winning streak which catapulted the Cardinals into a virtual tie for the division lead.

Suddenly, the Cardinals were close behind and not to be forgotten in both the wild card race and the possibility of recapturing the NL Central crown. As long as Tommy Pham stayed on the field, Paul DeJong kept cranking homers, and Tyler Lyons could effectively take over the closer role, there was the promise of more.

But after the winning streak ended, their odds went into a tailspin. From August 13th - September 13th, the Cardinals starters tied for 17th in total innings pitched (161.0) and the bullpen had a 4.38 FIP. Not exactly a winning combo, but their wRC+ was seventh in baseball over that same timeframe. The pitching became a liability but the offense was able to prevent their odds from cratering, instead forcing a more gradual decline.

Their postseason likelihood went down, down, down, until reaching its then-lowest point (11.5 percent) on August 30th. Less than a month ago, the Cardinals’ odds at reaching the playoffs were about one-in-ten. That is the trouble with baseball, isn’t it? The short-lived high of a win and the tiny fissures each loss creates in your soul that lengthen with every losing streak. The Cardinals have too many cracks and hope for them was all but shattered.

Of course, there is still hope. I wrote about Paul DeJong and Tommy Pham, but those are bright glimmers in a team that’s been a merry-go-round all season long. The Cardinals began the year with Aledmys Diaz, Jhonny Peralta, and Mike Leake on the roster. Sometimes my dad calls me to ask who still actually plays for St. Louis. Tommy Pham, the undisputed MVP of this team, spent the first six weeks in Memphis and considered quitting baseball altogether.

Just when the roller coaster hit its nadir, four percent on September 18th, it bounced right back up because the Rockies went cold as the Cardinals got hot. Somehow, in five days their odds have more than quadrupled. Fangraphs has the Cardinals’ postseason odds (as of Saturday) at 22.9 percent and I honestly cannot tell which way is up. Look at the Cardinals’ postseason odds throughout this season:

It looks more like EKG results than a contending baseball team. In Yuuri’s final monologue he says,

“There's a place you just can't reach unless you have a dream too large to bear alone.”

In what has been another transition year, the Cardinals still don’t have what it takes to reach that place. Two weeks ago I felt like they could make it to October before I lost all hope. Now they are somehow only 2.5 games out of the wild card with seven games to play and it is this roller coaster which makes watching the Cardinals so difficult.

After Sunday’s loss to the Pirates, they have 10.9 percent odds of making the playoffs. One loss chopped their chances in half. Through all those highs and lows we went through the past month, we’re right back where we began: one-in-ten. We have seven more days of “maybe.” Whether they make it to the postseason or not, I will be grateful for the offseason so I can step off this wild ride.

Here lies my optimism; dead until it is revived into a zombie-like state during the winter meetings.

. . .

Audrey Stark is a contributor at Viva El Birdos. You can follow her on Twitter @HighStarkSunday.