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The Cardinals best start to a season - A Hunt and Peck

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The Cardinals season that began with most consecutive wins...

Orlando Cepeda

Earlier this week, inspired by Grant Brisbee’s lovely post about the 1988 Baltimore Orioles, I wrote about the Cardinals seasons that started with the most consecutive losses in order to find the team’s “worst start to a season”. Well, as an optimist and generally lighthearted gal, I found that research to be rather bleak, so to make it a little more fun and really further the utility for my work, I looked into the Cardinals best starts to a season as well. Let’s get to it!

1884 St. Louis Brown Stockings

Overall Record: 67-40
Finish: 4th in American Association
Pythagorean Record: 63-44 (658 Runs Scored, 539 Runs Allowed)
Longest Winning Streak: 8
Longest Losing Streak: 4
Began the season with 6 consecutive wins

Technically not the “Cardinals” as we know today, but still the same organization all the same, in 1884 the St. Louis Brown Stockings were off to a hot start with six consecutive wins. That team boasted a .626 winning percentage and still ended up in fourth place behind the leading New York Metropolitans, who went 75-32 for a .701 winning percentage (and according to Baseball Reference ended up below their Pythagorean record of 78-29). It was a tough break for a team that spent 33 days in first place. The Brown Stockings’ leading producer was Arlie Latham, a twenty-four year old third baseman who accumulated 4.2 rWAR in 110 games.

1889 St. Louis Browns

Overall Record: 90-45
Finish: 2nd in American Association
Pythagorean Record: 88-47 (957 Runs Scored, 680 Runs Allowed)
Longest Winning Streak: 8
Longest Losing Streak: 4
Began the season with 6 consecutive wins

This Browns team spent 137 days in first place and still finished second in their league to those darn Brooklyn Bridegrooms. This team was good, led by a three-headed monster of a pitching corps: Ice Box Chamberlain, Silver King, and Jack Stivetts. The trio of twenty-one-year-olds contributed a total of 23.5 rWAR, 9.2 from Chamberlain, 8.6 from King, and 5.7 from Stivetts. Chamberlain won thirty-two games with fifteen losses in just over 421 innings pitched with a 2.97 ERA and 3.90 FIP. King pitched 458 innings for thirty-five wins to sixteen losses with a 3.14 ERA and 3.57 FIP. Stivetts was probably the best on a rate basis, starting only twenty games compared to fifty-three and fifty-six from Ice Box and Silver. Stivetts went 12-7 in those games and pitched 191.2 innings with a 225 ERA and 2.93 FIP.

1967 St. Louis Cardinals (¡Viva El Birdos!)

Overall Record: 101-60
Finish: 1st in National League
Pythagorean Record: 97-64 (695 Runs Scored, 557 Runs Allowed)
Longest Winning Streak: 8
Longest Losing Streak: 4
Began the season with 6 consecutive wins

The 1967 Cardinals are near and dear to this blog’s heart, as evidenced by our name. Manager Red Schoendienst along with General Manager Stan Musial put together this World Series winning club that took first place in the National League by 10.5 games, spending 115 days in first place. The team was led in rWAR by VEB icon Orlando Cepeda with 6.8. Cepeda led the team in home runs, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage, with a slash line of .325/.399/.524. The Birdos ended the ‘67 season by defeating the Boston Red Sox in the World Series four games to three.

1899 St. Louis Perfectos

Overall Record: 84-67
Finish: 5th in National League
Pythagorean Record: 83-68 (819 Runs Scored, 739 Runs Allowed)
Longest Winning Streak: 7
Longest Losing Streak: 6
Began the season with 7 consecutive wins

The 1899 Perfectos got off to a hot start in April with a record of 9-2 in the month and continued playing well into May. After spending twenty-seven days in first place, the team began to falter, eventually falling back into fifth place and 18.5 games back of the leading Brooklyn Superbas. Despite a lackluster finish, the team was led by some pretty good players. Cy Young put up 8.5 rWAR in a little over 369 innings. Jack Powell followed with 6.2 rWAR in 373 innings. The left-handed batting Jesse Burkett hit .396/.463/.500 in 141 games to led the offense with 5.8 rWAR. It just was not enough.

1962 St. Louis Cardinals

Overall Record: 84-78
Finish: 6th in National League
Pythagorean Record: 92-70 (774 Runs Scored, 664 Runs Allowed)
Longest Winning Streak: 7
Longest Losing Streak: 8
Began the season with 7 consecutive wins

What the heck happened with the ‘62 Cards? For starters, the Giants and Dodgers won over 100 games that season with Cincinnati right behind them at 98. The National League was a juggernaut and yet somehow the Giants lost four games to three to the Yankees in the World Series. Before things went downhill, this Cardinals team won seven in a row to start off the season and won eleven of their first fifteen games. This team was led by Bob Gibson, who contributed 6.3 rWAR in almost 234 innings, boasting a 2.85 ERA and 3.02 FIP with 208 strikeouts and 104 walks.

Now after this exercise I am pretty sure we are all thinking the same thing. Does a hot start correlate to success? While bad teams are more likely to play poorly and good teams are more likely to play well, sequencing of wins and losses is dependent on many other factors like qualitative of opponent, injuries, and just good, ole-fashioned luck. A good start never hurts though, right?

The Cardinals have won eleven World Series and the Browns have won one. Of those twelve, eight teams started off the season with a win. 1967 started the season with six straight wins, 1944 with five straight, 1931 with four straight, 2006 with three straight, and 1886 (Browns), 1982, 1934, 1926 all began the season with a win. The four that did not: 1942 lost the first game, 1946 lost the first game then won seven straight, 1964 lost the first game, and 2011 lost the first two games.

Hopefully we can the 2018 Cardinals to that list!

Data courtesy of Baseball Reference

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