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The Cardinals best and worst 60-game stretches

How the best and worst teams have performed over 60 games gives us some expectations for an entire season of that length.

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NLCS: Astros v Cardinals Game 7 Photo By Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Think of this as an extension of Tyler’s post yesterday, looking at how Cardinal teams of the last 10 years have performed over their first 60 games. I looked all the way back to the 1920s, wondering what the best and worst stretches of 60 games were - regardless of whether or not they started the season.

I think what John and I are both wondering is just how predictive a 60-game season would be of the results of a “full” season. We know 162-games is the standard for separating the winners from the losers. We know that playoff series - even 7 game series - are largely a tossup. Where does a 60-game season fall in that spectrum?

We’ll get back into that in a moment. But first, let’s look at some Cardinals history.

So the best teams over a full season were also the teams that played best over a 60-game stretch. That’s actually pretty reassuring. Sure, I expected very good teams to show up on this list, but I wondered if we might get a few mediocre or bad teams here who put together a long streak. That’s not the case. A bad team might have a good week or two. They aren’t going to have a good 60 games.

I also looked at the worst Cardinal 60-game runs. That gets a little tricky, both because of some quirks with how Baseball Reference’s Stathead works and because there were so many really bad Cardinal teams before the 1920s. So instead, here are the worst 60-day runs by every Cardinals team to make the playoffs in the last 10 years:

Some of these teams would not have made the playoffs based on these 60-day stretches alone, but none of these are really terrible. Most are within spitting distance of .500, and this is when we cherry-pick the absolute worst stretch of an entire season. Again, a good team can have a bad week or two, but they aren’t going to play terribly over 60 games.

In these anecdotal examples of St. Louis Cardinals seasons, it looks like 60-games is actually reasonably predictive of a full season of results. And in a much more scientific study, that’s exactly what Eno Sarris found as well.

Sarris wrote that piece back when it looked like the season could be as many as 80 games and as few as 48. His findings were basically - and no shock here - that more games are better, but 60 was a real tipping point. Under the current plan, we will have those 60 games.

Regardless of how predictive 60 games is, this season will be riddled with questions of what-could-have-been? Some team will unexpectedly over-perform expectations and land in the playoffs, maybe even win the World Series. Some other team will come on like a hurricane in the final few weeks, but finish just outside the playoffs. If only they had played more games!

That speculation is fun, but it will only ever be speculation because this 60-game season is THE SEASON. Many have pointed out that last year’s champions, the Washington Nationals, were 27-33 after 60 games. That’s interesting to consider now because we can compare that subset to the full, 162-game season.

There will be no 162-game version of the 2020 season. There will only be the 60-game season (and hopefully, that). And while a team’s performance over 60 may be a shade less reflective of its true talent than its performance over 162, it’s still enough games to be much more than just luck.