The run since 2000 has been called the golden age of Cardinals baseball. In fact, I wrote that very thing on this website this past Friday. It might not be the most remarkable franchise run from a Flags Fly Forever standpoint - that would be the 1940s - but the 40s were a long time ago and when measuring by a We Will Be Damn Good Way More Often Than We Will Be Bad metric, it's hard to beat this current stretch of baseball. That hasn't resulted in automatic goodwill and it shouldn't. An exhausting lack of urgency this offseason has been met with rightful disdain. And Mike Shildt will hear about it the first time he leaves a starter in for too long in 2020. But overall, things have been pretty good.
On that front, I've followed a few trends the last couple of years and captured them in graph-form below. Maybe they're not entirely dispositive of anything in their own right, nor all that sophisticated, but they do lend credence to the whole golden age thing.
1. Winning more than you're losing
The Cardinals beat the Rockies 10-3 in a wild Thursday afternoon game on September 12, 2019, to earn their 82nd win of the season. They had a four-game lead on the NL Central at the time and were eying loftier goals, but this game at least ensured that the Cardinals would finish above .500 for the 12th consecutive year, a designation which puts them in pretty elite company.
Consecutive Seasons Above .500
(Should the y-axis clearly mark 0 for the baseline? Probably. Blame me and Apple Pages. It's not a good relationship.)
Other than the Yankees, who haven't finished at or below .500 since 1992 - a truly remarkable feat - the Cardinals have the longest streak in baseball. Again, this doesn't mean everything and doesn't allow a ton of room for context. The Cubs are on the right side of this graph and certainly no one is throwing them a parade on behalf of their 84-win 2019 season. But the baseball season is a long grueling affair and it sure is nice if you can win more than you lose.
2. Avoiding the cellar
About that 162 games thing. Imagine trying in earnest to follow every game for a last place team. I literally can't. The Cardinals haven't finished in dead last since 1990, a time when the idea of every single game being televised hadn't quite been realized.
Consecutive Seasons Without A Last Place Finish
Not even the Yankees, who also most recently finished in last place in 1990, can do better than the Cardinals here. Now, this isn't a perfect indicator of success either. The White Sox haven't finished in last place since 2013 but they've done their best to rack up a bunch of 4th place finishes. And the Mets are here to show us what's truly possible when you reside in a division that seems to always have at least one team pulling off a massive tank job. Still, the drop off after the Dodgers is pretty sharp and more than 75 percent of teams in MLB have finished in last place in this decade. Whereas at this time next year, the Cardinals will likely be looking at three straight decades out of the cellar.
3. History of the NL Central
The NL Central as we know it began in 1994. Here's how each team measures year-by-year in wins:
Forgive this giant mess of a graph, although it's an improvement on last year. If you can just get a glimpse of this thing (staring directly at it is probably not the best idea) you might be able to discern that the Cardinals have pretty much dominated the NL Central since 2000. There's a lot of red near the top. (Speaking of which, sorry Reds. My goal for next year is to learn how to change their line to black.)
This graph also accentuates my favorite ongoing stat: The Cardinals have finished ahead of the Pirates for 20 straight years. That's the longest current such-streak in baseball and only 14 years removed from the record when the Yankees bested the Philadelphia/Kansas City Athletics every season from 1932-1965. (Credit to the Effectively Wild podcast for that stat.) I'm setting an alert to return to this after the 2033 season to see where things stand.
Outside of the World Series titles and Pennants, this is what a golden age of baseball looks like. More winning than losing; no last place finishes; Pirate domination. We expect more in 2020, but let these three principles be the bare minimum going forward.