Let’s start with the good news: It’s still very early. More than 92 percent of the Cardinals’ schedule remains. I don’t think many people know what to make of the Yankees thus far, but there’s no denying that the Cubs and Nationals are likely very good. So the Cardinals have played some tough teams. The bad news is this team has looked like a mess. The type of mess where it’s hard to pinpoint one area of baseball where this team excels.
Here are some of the ugly, basic facts up to this point:
- The Cardinals are 3-9;
- After the ugly 9-3 loss last night, they have a -22 run differential;
- They have yet to win a series; and
- They have somehow already shoehorned three separate 3-game losing streaks into this young season.
Let’s take a look at these four facts compared to recent Cardinals history, starting with the first one, the 3-9 record. This is the Cardinals’ worst start since they also opened the 1988 season 3-9. That’s a time period that covers a few pretty bad Cardinals teams, like 1990, 1995, and 1997. Had they been able to take at least one game from the Yankees and entered today with a 4-8 record it still would have been their worst start in twenty years.
As for the -22 run differential, to find a worse mark after twelve games, you have to go back to 1976 when the Cardinals started the season with a 4-8 record and a ghastly -24 run differential. It wouldn’t get much better, that team lost 90 games although their scoring evened out a bit and they ended the season with a run differential of only -42. But the point is, this is not just a 3-9 start with a few close losses here and there, the Cardinals are getting outscored by an amount not seen in over forty years.
Further, the Cardinals have played four three-game series this season and, as noted, are 0-for-4. Since Mike Matheny took over in 2012, here’s the date in which the Cardinals lost their fourth series of at least three games:
- 2012: May 19
- 2013: June 22
- 2014: May 3
- 2015: June 9
- 2016: May 8
And for the final figure, the three 3-game losing streaks, similar to above, here’s the date in which the Cardinals notched their third 3-game losing streak (or more) during the Matheny-era:
- 2012: May 19
- 2013: July 28
- 2014: June 20
- 2015: July 12
- 2016: May 26
Look at that, it took the 97-win 2013 team until almost August to lose three games in a row, something this year’s squad pulled off before tax day. It took that same 2013 team until game 75 to lose their fourth series of at least three games. Again, last night was game twelve. Times have changed.
Now, there’s a very solid argument that there’s no reason to be too concerned. Joe Sheehan spent some time on Twitter after last night’s game making said argument. He has a point. And as I conceded at the beginning, it’s very early, so twelve games aren’t all that meaningful, right?
Well, wrong. I think. To explain, and pardon the long-winded detour en route to my point, I want to talk about the 2015 New York Mets. Most of us likely remember that Mets squad as the guys with ace after ace who smoked the bullying upstart Cubs in the NLCS and finished just a bit short of winning everything.
Those Mets greatly exceeded preseason expectations. PECOTA only saw them winning about 82 games, but perhaps they didn’t account for 22-year-old rookie Noah Syndergaard being a three-win pitcher or 34-year-old Curtis Granderson returning to form. Or maybe PECOTA wasn’t too far off. The Mets blazed out of the gates that season to a 13-3 record, and went a fine, not spectacular 77-69 the rest of the way to finish with 90 wins. Luckily, that was enough to finish ahead of the Washington Nationals in the division, who imploded under manager Matt Williams, and once the Mets reached the playoffs we know as well as anyone that anything can happen and it almost did.
Without that frenzied start, in which seven of those 13 wins were by two runs or less, and certainly without the Nationals tripping over themselves, the Mets may have been left at home. It was only 16 games but it meant a whole heck of a lot.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, are doing the opposite. Since the advent of the second wild card in 2012, that second wild card team, the last team to sneak into the postseason, has averaged 90 wins. That number might be a bit inflated by a 97-win Cubs team finishing for the second wild card in 2015, but the point remains if teams want to make the playoffs, they need hit the high-80 mark at the very least. So if the Cardinals want any shot at say 89 wins and a postseason birth, they need to play 86-64 ball from here on out. Seems like a tall order with what we’ve seen so far.
Reversing course like that is certainly not impossible. The 2004 Cardinals team was 23-22 near the end of May and finished the season with 105 wins. But it’s hard to imagine a worse start if the Cardinals have any illusions of playing extra baseball this season. And it’s certainly hard to imagine if Dexter Fowler has lost the ability to get on base at even a decent level or if the pitching staff more closely resembles games 6 through 12 rather than 1 through 5.
Again, it’s only twelve games, but it has been an ugly twelve. This might be indicative of simply a bad baseball team, or the ramifications could be just missing the postseason for a second straight season. We’ll see.