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September: Time for Cardinals streaks

In a recent post, I looked at St. Louis Cardinals history in terms of long winning and losing stretches. This time around, I am going to focus in on the most recent five seasons to see what streak information might tell us.

Following are the club’s results in terms of wins over the last five years as well as the timing of their longest winning and losing streaks. From part one, you may recall that the club’s all-time records in terms of consecutive wins and losses are 14 and 12 respectively, each set over seventy years ago.

Where there were multiple streaks of the same length, the months of each streak are listed separately.

Winning and losing streaks – St. Louis Cardinals – 2004 through 2008

Year Wins Longest win streak Month Longest losing streak Month
2008 86 6 September 7 September
2007 78 5 August 9 September
2006 83 7 July 8 June
2005 100 6 April 3 May
2004 105 9 Aug-Sept 4 September

I am not sure what I expected to see, but in terms of sheer numbers, the fact that not even the 100-plus win clubs of 2004 and 2005 were able to string together at least ten wins at a time surprised me a bit. While the most winning clubs generally had longer streaks, the data is not all that compelling.

Looking at losing streaks seems to say a little more. In each of the last three seasons, long losing skids of from seven to nine games occurred. On the other hand, in the two previous winning seasons, the runs of consecutive losses were effectively capped at four or fewer.

Consider 2005. I find it amazing that club endured a season-long worst stretch of only three consecutive losses, but even more so that it occurred only three times all year long. There was some very consistent winning going on.

What is probably my main takeaway from this data can be seen in the calendar information. Of the six months of play each season, September has clearly been the one month for streaky behavior in recent seasons – both good and bad.

Half (three of six) of the longest winning streaks in each of the last five seasons occurred in September. It is just as striking when looking at the losing runs. In that case, four of eight of the worst stretches occurred during the final full month.

Why are half the longest streaks coming during just one 30-day period each season?

One might try to wash this away by suggesting the reason for streaky play late is due to the team being out of pennant contention or because of increased reliance on less-proven players promoted from the minor leagues for the final month.

I don’t think I buy it. With the added incentive of the wild card, the Cardinals have remained in the chase late in almost every recent season, including 2008. Compared to other clubs, it seems to me that the Cardinals use called-up players less extensively during the final month than their opponents, though that is a gut feeling. I have not made formal comparisons with other teams.

Could it be that the hard-driving Tony La Russa begins to wear thin as the days shorten? Are the players just tired? Aren’t the other teams tired, too? Do the Cardinals have more late-season injuries than other clubs?

It could be one factor or a combination of many.

Still, when considering the recent streakiness exhibited by the Cardinals, they seem to avoid reaching too high or falling too low for the majority of the season, at least until the final month.

I am quite sure that if the coaching staff knew how to fine tune their behavior to maximize the positive results and minimize the negative, they would quickly adjust their routine accordingly.

If only it was so simple…

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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