If you solely concentrate on the stained glass of the Cardinal, it looks like it could be in a church somewhere. It would be fitting for the picture atop this article to be from a church as we will be discussing the St. Louis Cardinals just a couple dozen hours after their 2019 season dying a terrible death at the hands of the Washington Nationals.
If you take in the entire picture, bar top and all, taken on the main drag of a small town (Abingdon) in the southwest corner of Virginia - taken this past weekend when I was there for a wedding prior to game 1, it might make even more sense. It'd have been better had I captured the beer that I was drinking as the Cardinals would provide plenty of reasons to need a drink in the 4 games over the next 5 days.
So as I mentioned, the Cardinals' season has tragically come to a close. I don't mean tragic in the sense of the term that would be implied by the fact that it was 5 years ago this October that we saw a rookie (Oscar Taveras) hit a game tying home run against the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS in what would be one of the final plate appearances of his life, but the end of this Cardinals' season is tragic nonetheless.
The way it happened was both ever-imminent and also nearly unfathomable. The St. Louis Cardinals were a bit of a streaky team this year and the way that they ended the regular season was not pretty. Sure, it was wonderful when they had the 6 game winning streak and won 7 of 8, including 2 out of 3 against the same Washington team that turned around less than a month later to pummel them in a sweep that ended their season. However, after that 7 of 8 stretch, the Cardinals lost 4 in a row (2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks who were 5-10 in their previous 15 and then 2 to the Chicago Cubs who had lost their previous 9) before winning their last game of the season. The Cardinals then had to claw back from a 1-2 deficit in the NLDS against Atlanta to even get to the NLCS against Washington by winning the final two games in that series.
Then again, this is a team that was the best team in baseball after games on May 1st, sitting at 20-10 only to go 6-18 over the next 24 to drop to just 1 game ahead of last place Cincinnati in the NL Central, 11th overall in the NL, and just 19th in baseball. It took 24 games to completely undo (and more) everything it took 30 hard fought games to do prior to that. They went from 10 over .500 to 2 under in a hurry. And it was terrible. So of course this team won 5 of the next 6, then dropped 3 straight...IN CHICAGO...AGAINST THE CUBS...BY A COMBINED 11 RUNS, before bouncing back to win 9 of their next 13, and then lose 5 straight.
It's just how it went all year. They were the team that took an All-Star break record of just 44-44 and said (through their actions):
"This is the team that we bet on at the beginning of the year and they have not done enough to tell me we should add to it and have not done little enough to tell me that we should abandon ship. Go as you are and do what we thought you could. You get no help to do so, however."
Only to see the team respond to that, almost inexplicably, by going 14-6 out of the break! They hit the West Coast trip from hell (Oakland and the Dodgers) and got beat in all 5 games by a total of 18 runs. But then they responded well to that (what turned out to be a) bump in the road by winning 18 of their next 23, giving them a record of 32-16 in their first 48 games after the All-Star break. This stretch had the exact same win percentage as their first 30 games of the season, both at .667 ball. That's 108-54 pace. That's ridiculous.
This incredibly good stretch took them from an All-Star break at which they were 17th in baseball, 9th in the NL, and 3rd in their division to the 2nd of September - on the 1st they had played in their second double header against the Cincinnati Reds in as many days. They had seen this breakdown in their 76-60 record over the first 136 games of the year.
First 30 games: 20-10 (.667)
Next 58 games: 24-34 (.414)
Last 48 games: 32-16 (.667)
The St. Louis Cardinals would finish the year at 91-71, going 15-11 down the home stretch of the remainder of September, including an 8-5 record against the Brewers, Cubs, and Nationals in that stretch.
You could argue that the hitting is what drove the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals' win-loss record. If you look at their team batting splits, it would be hard to argue otherwise.
You can see that on the left the highlighted columns show the month followed by the third column's number of games played. The center highlighted columns show the quadruple slash line of batting average, on base percentage, slugging, and OPS. The right highlighted columns show the OPS+ compared to league average each month.
For the first 29 games (remember, 20-10 over the first 30), the Cardinals hit 15% better than league average.
For the next two months (53 games, remembering that they were 24-34 over the 31st through 88th games of the season), they combined to be 22% worse than league average.
From July until the end of the season (80 games, remembering that they went 47-27 in their last 78), they combined to be about league average hitting.
Obviously, you shouldn't be 20 games over .500 in a three month span if you're a league average hitting team, so a lot of other things had to go right. That's why I said earlier that you could argue that the hitting told the story of the Cardinals...but it's not the entire story. The argument would get you close, but fail.
So let's take a look at the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching splits.
Notice on page 1 (above) of our pitching splits that the opposing teams' OPS - near the middle of the image - got worse and worse as the year went on (as a general trend). Obviously August was the Cardinals' pitchers best month overall (.643 OPS allowed), but June (.716), July (.721), and September (.686) were their next three best months. The trend was clear. They improved as the year went on.
Below is page 2 of the pitching splits. You can tell by the ERAs (on the left side of the image) that the pitching got better and better as the year went on as well, with ERAs averaging out to around 4.3 the first two months (56 games), around 3.75 the middle two months (51 games), and around 3.3 the last two months (55 games).
Of course, base running and fielding had a part of the turnaround that led the St. Louis Cardinals back to the playoffs after a 3-season hiatus. Those stats are not easily broken down month by month. However, numerous articles and statistics show that the Cardinals defense was largely a success this season - a fine departure from years' past by Mike Shildt and the coaching staff.
Some positive trends to look at coming out of this season:
The Cardinals made the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
The Cardinals won the NL Central for the first time since 2015.
The Cardinals won 91 games for the first time since 2015 and second time since 2013. The same can be true of their Pythagorean Win% of 92 games (best since 2015 and second best since 2013).
The Cardinals made the NLCS for the first time since 2014.
For the fourth year in a row, Cardinals pitchers allowed less runs than they did the season prior. From 2016-2018, they shaved 21 runs off of their totals. In 2019, they went down by 29 runs allowed, though! That would be fantastic, even without this next fact. Runs scored across the entire league were higher than they'd been in any season since 2006! So the Cardinals had their best run prevention team since 2015 when the league had their best run scoring season since 2006! Wow! Mike Maddux really got those guys going quite well this year!
Despite the caterwauling about the offense, they scored their most runs since 2016. That said, they scored 3 more runs than last year and 5 more runs than the year prior to that. It's not like they exploded...while the league did around them. Some of the caterwauling was deserved.
Furthermore regarding the hitting, the team scored 4.67 runs per game in the first half and scored 5.01 runs per game in the second half. They started to gel a little bit, it seemed to me. Then again, they were quite anemic at times in the second half as well.
Have a drink. Celebrate those successes. Amen.
I am sure over the course of the next few weeks and months, there will be a lot more interesting information regarding the end of the season and the beginning of the 2020 season here at Birds on the Black. In fact:
Enjoy and we'll speak again soon. As always, find me at @stlfanbc7 on Twitter.