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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Cardinals and September not made for one another

As Cardinals fans know, the Tony La Russa years in St. Louis have been very productive. Since taking over the reigns of the Cardinals in 1996, La Russa has led his teams to 1,226 wins and 1,025 losses, for a winning percentage of .545. The latter is better than franchise icons Red Schoendienst (.522) and Whitey Herzog (.530).

La Russa’s St. Louis clubs have amassed one world championship, two National League pennants, six first-place finishes and made the playoffs a total of seven times in 13 seasons.

The 2009 first-place Cards possess MLB’s largest divisional lead, 8.5 games in the NL Central. Yet some are worrying over the club’s 8-7 September record (.533), capped off by the current 1-5 homestand.

This post will look into whether there is correlation between the team’s September results and their post-season success. First, we will start with the basics – the final month won-loss record and a summary of October results.

Cardinals September record and October results under La Russa, 1996-2009

Sept. Sept. Sept. Oct .
Year Wins Losses Pct. Result
2009 thru 9/16 8 7 0.533 TBD
2008 12 13 0.480
2007 13 18 0.419
2006 12 16 0.429 WS win
2005 13 13 0.500 CS loss
2004 16 12 0.571 WS loss
2003 13 13 0.500
2002 21 6 0.778 CS loss
2001 17 5 0.773 DS loss
2000 19 9 0.679 CS loss
1999 10 15 0.400
1998 18 7 0.720
1997 10 16 0.385
1996 17 9 0.654 CS loss
1996-2009 199 159 0.556
2003-2009 87 92 0.486
1996-2002 112 67 0.626

Observation #1: Overall, La Russa’s teams have played well in September.

Since 1996, La Russa’s clubs have done well in the final full month, posting a higher September winning percentage than his clubs over the same entire seasons (.556 vs. .545).

Observation #2: La Russa’s early teams were phenomenal in September.

Looking further however, one can clearly see that record was fattened up during the first half of his St. Louis tenure, from 1996 through 2002, during which time they played fantastic ball in September (.626).

Observation #3: All of La Russa’s recent teams have sub-.500 September records.

The most recent 6-1/2 final months tell a much different story. The Cardinals have won under 49 percent of their September contests since 2003. That .486 mark compares most unfavorably to the Cardinals’ overall regular-season record of .557 since the start of 2003.

The last full September during which the Cardinals had a winning record was in the 105-win high watermark season of 2004. That also represents the only winning September for the club since 2003.

How might September results relate to play in October?

Observation #4: La Russa’s playoff teams have played winning baseball in September.

Only once did any of La Russa’s eight post-season entrants post a sub-.500 mark in September. Everyone can probably guess that was in 2006, as the club limped into the playoffs, but then won the 11 games that matter most.

Observation #5: La Russa’s winning September teams almost always make the post-season.

1998 was the only season during La Russa’s tenure when the Cardinals played better than .500 in September but remained home in October.

Now let’s try to correlate September and October results. I have grouped the September records by the highest level in the playoffs the Cardinals reached. For example, the 2004 and 2006 teams made the World Series (WS). Four clubs ended their seasons in the Championship Series (CS) while only one lost in the first round, the Division Series (DS).

Cardinals September results, sorted by highest playoff level achieved, 1996-2008

Sept. Sept. Sept. Oct .
WS Wins Losses Pct. Result
2006 12 16 0.429 WS win
2004 16 12 0.571 WS loss
28 28 0.500
Sept. Sept. Sept. Oct .
CS Wins Losses Pct. Result
2005 13 13 0.500 CS loss
2002 21 6 0.778 CS loss
2000 19 9 0.679 CS loss
1996 17 9 0.654 CS loss
70 37 0.654
Sept. Sept. Sept. Oct .
DS Wins Losses Pct. Result
2001 17 5 0.773 DS loss

Observation #6: Generally, the poorest September teams went the farthest in the post-season, while the (second) best was the first to be eliminated in the playoffs.

Is that counter-intuitive or what? Sure, the sample size is small and skewed by the poor regular season of the 2006 club, but still…

Remember, the 2009 Cardinals’ record is currently .533. Despite this limited data, I am not going to go as far as suggesting their September struggles will equate to October success, however.

Check back here tomorrow for the next segment of this report.

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