The 10.5: Cardinals are hot, interleague play, Players' Weekend



So, I'm not sure I ever adequately explained the reasoning behind the name the 10.5. It's pretty simple. It's an homage to the 2011 Cardinals, who were 10.5 games out of the wild card race around this time seven years ago before storming back and spending every ounce of allocated goodwill from the sports gods all in the span of a couple of months. Sometimes I still can't believe that it happened.


In fact, here's a fun exercise: Grab a piece of paper and write down every single thing that had to go right starting in mid-August in order for the Cardinals to arrive where they did on October 28, 2011. The end result will be something completely surreal and absurd and it really should be memorialized. Anyway, now you know the reason for the name.


It's a new season (maybe)


That's a good segue into the current state of the club. Those 2011 Cardinals (along with the 2006 version) have warped my brain into thinking anything is possible. I'm not alone on this. Will Leitch summed up this mindset pretty well on the most recent episode of the Seeing Red podcast. And now that the team has won four series in a row - and looked pretty good doing it, I must say - it's full-on "scoreboard watching, let's get into the wild card game"-mode. And...it's not implausible. FanGraphs has their playoff odds at just under 15 percent. Baseball Prospectus is right there as well. That's not great, but it feels like a world of difference from where this team was two weeks ago (51-51, if curious).


Here's the thing: It's not an easy road, but there's opportunity. After this weekend series in Kansas City, the Cardinals play 35 of 44 games against winning National League clubs. That includes six games with the Brewers and Pirates, seven games with the Nationals, and three games with the Rockies and Braves - all teams who are possibly competing for those same wild card spots in one way or another. There's also seven games left against the Dodgers, in case you trust the Diamondbacks to hold them off in the NL West.


In theory, the Cardinals probably hold their fate in their own hands. That's a tough schedule though, which is why it's important they bank a few wins this weekend in Kansas City against a Royals team who is fighting the Orioles for the worst record in all of baseball.


Interleague


Speaking of that, the Cardinals used to dominate interleague play when compared to their NL peers. Getting to play the typically bad Royals every season certainly helped but since 1997, when interleague play began, the Cardinals (just barely) have the best interleague record in the NL (courtesy of Baseball Reference's Play Index).

The margin used to be much wider. Problem is, since 2016, when the Cardinals first started annoyingly missing the postseason, they've been one of the worst NL clubs versus their American League counterparts. Check it out.

What's interesting is they have a positive run differential and the sixth best overall run differential in the NL, but remain eight games below even. So they've basically been the bizarro 2018 Seattle Mariners.


Player's Weekend


There's this relatively new thing called Player's Weekend starting in two weeks in which the players where fancy threads and get to choose (within reason, I'm sure) their own nickname to don the back of the jerseys.

Pretty sharp. If you want to buy one and see the mostly good nicknames, you can do that here. I will likely not be making a purchase. I think they look great, better than any jersey I own, but a baseball jersey is not the most practical line of clothing for someone who is not, you know, actually playing a game of baseball. And they're expensive, about $120. Even though they look good hanging in a closet, it's hard for me to spend money on a baseball jersey that's only going to be worn a few times a year (if that) unless it's on sale. And that's why the two Cardinals jerseys I own say "Freese" and "Beltrán" on the back, which were both purchased after Mr. Freese and Beltrán left the club and there was no choice but to offer them at a discount.


Recent words written about baseball that are worth reading

  • Handicapping the award races: MVP by Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs. There's been some noise in our corner lately concerning the NL MVP ever since Matt Carpenter morphed into the greatest hitter in baseball. Carpenter is picked to finish second behind Noal Arenado, with a 12.3 percent chance to win, but Szymborski did write this: "Still below the Mendoza Line on May 23rd, Matt Carpenter has hit an absolutely ludicrous .331/.436/.726 since, with 26 home runs in 66 games. If he continues to mash like this, it’ll be almost impossible for him not to win the MVP award, though maintaining an 1.150 OPS is easier said than done. Carpenter’s probably not helped by the perception that St. Louis is a non-contender, but the probability of them snagging a Wild Card spot is still firmly in plausible territory."

  • Flu-Like Symptoms: Folding under RISP pressure by Rob Mains of Baseball Prospectus ($). I've noted this before, but I think Mains covers trends in baseball better than anyone. Here, he tackled why hitters fare better (and pitchers fare worse) when there are runners in scoring position. Almost everyone thinks their team is bad at hitting in the clutch, but that's simply not true. It's bias, it's fans watching one team and remembering the failures more than the successes. But they're better. Even the maddening 2017 Cardinals were better. And the reason why hitters do better with runners in scoring position, as Main notes, is simple: Pitchers are under more stress when there are runners aboard, AND a bad pitcher is more likely to let runners on base, at which point he will continue to be bad. Makes sense. I should probably still note this part though:

Hmmm.


That's all, have a great weekend, everyone. And go Cardinals.