photo: Busch Stadium, 09/27/17 (Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images)
For the second consecutive year, our top story for the St. Louis Cardinals had a similar and disappointing ending – fewer wins than the year before and no post-season berth.
In February, the 2017 Cardinals reported to spring training camp with the underdog label – due to the Chicago Cubs being the pick of many to win their second consecutive National League Central Division title and World Series. Despite both clubs having the vast majority of the same players back from 2016, the Cardinals were not ready to concede anything.
St. Louis got out of the gate poorly, however. Dropping each of their first four regular season series, the Cardinals were playing catch-up from the very start and spent over two consecutive months (from early June into August) under .500.
Though the Cubs also played below their potential for much of the first five months, Chicago took control of the division in September. For the second straight year, the Cardinals reset their sight on claiming one of the two wild cards and for the second straight year, fell short.
Their chances were crushed in late September with a finish much like their start. St. Louis went a dismal 2-7 to conclude the season, dropping consecutive series to Pittsburgh, Chicago and Milwaukee. The Cubs both clinched the Central Division and eliminated the Cards from the wild card in final-week head-to-head wins, adding insult to injury by celebrating on the turf of Busch Stadium.
St. Louis missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season after five straight appearances. The club finished 83-79, down three wins from the year before and 17 victories worse than in 2015. Third place is their worst division showing since 2008 and the 83 wins are their fewest since the 2007 team won 78.
The end result of third place was not a fluke, but a valid representation of the predominant place of the 2017 Cardinals in the division standings over the six-month season. As the data in the table below indicates, the Cardinals spent more time in third place than the other four spots in the standings combined.
Looking at it another way, the club spent over twice as many days in fourth or fifth (last) place than in first. After May 16, St. Louis was tied for first place for exactly one day, and enjoyed none alone on top.
As the one-time (Arizona) Cardinals head coach Dennis Green once said famously, “They are what we thought they were.”
|2017 St. Louis Cardinals|
|Place in division standings||Days|
|First/tied for first||14|
|Second/tied for second||39|
|Third/tied for third||99|
|Fourth/tied for fourth||21|
|Fifth/tied for fifth||10|
As one would expect considering the standings information just above, one of the key factors in the poor end result was an inability to consistently win within the division. Specifically, the 2017 Cards were a dismal 34-42 in the Central, losing head-to-head season match-ups against first-place Chicago and second-place Milwaukee. It isn’t just the high-spending ways of the Cubs, as the Brewers also finished ahead of St. Louis despite having MLB’s lowest payroll.
St. Louis was utterly dominated by Chicago in their season series, with the Cardinals managing just five wins in 19 tries (.263 win percentage). It extended the Cards’ struggles with the Cubs to 15 wins in 42 head-to-head games stretching back to the 2015 National League Division Series, considered the inflection point when Chicago took control.
Until the Cardinals close the talent gap with the Cubs, they will rightfully remain the underdog in the division heading into 2018 and beyond.
For a very in-depth recap of the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2017 season, click here.
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