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NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals' performance within division was pivotal

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday to secure the National League Central division crown and the automatic berth to the accompanying NLDS berth. It was fitting that the Cardinals won the division by beating the Pirates. A big reason behind the Cards topping the Buccos in the Central standings is how the clubs performed against the other teams in the division.

The Cardinals and Pirates both had Thursday evening off. The records in this post are through play on Wednesday, September 30. The Pirates still have three games left against an intradivision opponent, finishing the season with three games against the lowly Cincinnati Reds. So on the one hand, this post is not a complete accounting of the Pirates' performance against the Central. On the other, this post is about how a key to the Cardinals winning the division title—which they clinched on Wednesday night—in part because they performed better against Central clubs than the Pirates. Thus, the fact that Pittsburgh might improve its record against the Reds and Central as a whole over the weekend is not that big a deal, given our frame.

When MLB went to six divisions, it also implemented a weighted schedule. A club plays more games against foes within its division than those outside of it nowadays. This year, the Cardinals and Pirates each played the other Central clubs 19 times apiece. That's 76 games overall, which accounts for 46.9% of the 162-game schedule. The Cardinals had a 76-game feast; the Pirates, a 73-game famine.

2015:  Cardinals & Pirates vs. National League Central

No matter how the Pirates fare this weekend against the Reds, they will finish the 2015 season with a losing record against every team within the Central division. Yet Pittsburgh will have at least 96 total wins. That's amazing.

The winning percentage comparison provides a nice visual, but the raw wins and losses also help demonstrate the discrepancy in St. Louis and Pittsburgh's respective performances against divisional opponents.

Pirates vs. Central Opponents
  • vs. CHC:  8-11
  • vs. CIN:  6-10 (with three more games to be played)
  • vs. MIL:  9-10
  • vs. STL:  9-10
  • vs. NL Central:  32-41
Cardinals vs. Central Opponents
  • vs. CHC:  11-8
  • vs. CIN:  12-7
  • vs. MIL:  13-6
  • vs. PIT:  10-9
  • vs. NL Central:  46-30
The Cardinals finished 2015 with a winning record against every Central opponent. Fittingly, Wednesday's division-crown-clinching victory also gave St. Louis a season-series win over PIttsburgh. Overall, the Cardinals finished 16 games over .500 against Central opponents. The PIrates were nine games under .500 against other teams within the division after the Cardinals clinched the Central title at PNC Park on Wednesday.

Had the Pirates taken care of business against Central opponents like a team of their caliber should have, they might have clinched the division on Wednesday (if not sooner). But they didn't. The Cardinals did. And St. Louis won the Central division title for the third consecutive season.