After yesterday’s 6-4 Groundhog Day-ish loss (sigh), the Cardinals woke up today with a 26-31 record and a -20 run differential. That’s pretty helpful evidence to conclude that this has not been a good baseball team. Take a look at basically any offensive stat or the bullpen and you’ll understand why.
But let’s start with the run differential. About sixty percent of those negative runs came from the Scooter Gennett game, but even minus that, this is new territory for the Cardinals in the Mike Matheny era. Since Matheny was hired before the 2012 season, which lines up nicely with the addition of the second wild card (more on that in a second), here’s the Cardinals’ run differential on June 8:
This year’s squad are true outliers. What’s more, you have to go back to 2007 (-59) to find a Cardinals team with a worse run differential at this point in the season. That team was 26-32 on June 8 and finished the season 78-84, the last Cardinals team to finish under .500.
With that second wild card, ten teams now play some form of extra baseball each season, and here are the teams with a negative run differential on June 8 that went on to eventually make the playoffs:
2013: Dodgers (-37)
2015: Cubs (-1)
That’s seven out of 50 total playoff teams, roughly 14 percent. And only two had a worse run differential than the Cardinals on this date. If the Cardinals have any hopes of making the playoffs this season they sure aren’t taking the easy route.
As for the 26-31 record, the Cardinals haven’t been this far under .500 this late in the season since, again, 2007. That was ten years ago. Think how different your life was ten years ago. Think of all the things that have happened in the meantime. That’s how long it has been since the Cardinals were this bad at this point in the season.
Freezing time on June 8 doesn’t tell the most complete story. Schedules are uneven. June 8 might mean 57 games one season and 59 games in another. There are still a lot of games to play. But you get the idea – this is easily the worst Cardinals team since Matheny took over and they’re looking like the most disagreeable Cardinals team since that ‘07 squad. Or they could be worse than that. This team sure seems capable of a lot.
Though it’s quite unlikely, the Cardinals could still be back in first place exactly a week from now. That’s the result of what so far has been a weak NL Central. Throw in the addition of the second wild card and it’s a bit easier to make the playoffs than it used to be. That’s what makes some of these inexcusable, late-inning losses so galling. A few bullpen holds here or there, along with some actual offensive support, and things look a lot different.
I understand why some Cardinals fans would bristle at the talk of playoffs with how bad this team has played over the course of the last twenty games, but “hope something clicks and the team starts to play better” might be the most reasonable option.
First, there’s adequate, not elite, talent on this roster. Second, massive changes seem unlikely. Bernie Miklasz wrote yesterday that any hope that Matheny will be fired is misguided. A trade for an exciting big name like Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson is probably not happening since their teams are currently closer to a playoff spot than the Cardinals. And on the opposite end, this team is not in a good position to sell. Here’s Dave Cameron answering a question in yesterday’s FanGraphs’ Chat:
Mark: Assuming you can’t just say “Fire Matheny” as it seems he’s been given immunity by ownership, how would you go about revamping/blowing up the Cardinals? As a Redbird fan, I’m ready for a good blowing up as I’m resigned to Matheny sticking around.
Dave Cameron: I’m not so sure it’s that easy to blow this roster up. Yadi isn’t going anywhere, Wainwright is untradeable, you’re not moving Fowler a few months into a five year deal, you just extended Martinez…Who do you trade? Gyorko, I guess? Lynn? You’re still going to have an older team.
Another way to look at it is to know that the 2011 Cardinals went 7-13 over their worst 20-game stretch. The 2006 Cardinals went 6-14. Both of those teams won the World Series. Very good teams have bad stretches (I realize I might be taking a few liberties with “very good” as it pertains to the ‘06 team but they did win the series so whatever) over 162 games. That’s a thought, I guess. But this team doesn’t seem like those teams, or any other Cardinals team in a long time.