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Does a big September lead mean Cardinals October success?

Rather than stop with my earlier report, “Cardinals and September not made for one another”, I decided to dig a bit deeper. I wondered if the Cardinals post-season status during the final month could have affected their late-season sense of urgency and therefore, their September results.

While we cannot answer that with certainly, we can compare the standings.

The table below notes the Cardinals’ relative position in the standings, both as the month of September began as well as when it ended each season. I noted either the size of their lead or how far the Cardinals were behind in terms of number of games in the division as the month started and closed. A summary of whether the team gained or lost ground in the final month is offered followed by the post-season result.

Cardinals standings September 1 vs. October 1, 1996-2009

Sept. 1-Sep 1-Sep 1-Oct 1-Oct Sep-Oct Oct .
Year Pct. lead deficit lead deficit standings Result
2009 0.533 10.5 TBD TBD TBD
2008 0.480 11 11.5 lost
2007 0.419 2 7 lost
2006 0.429 5 1.5 lost WS win
2005 0.500 14 11 lost CS loss
2004 0.571 15.5 14 lost WS loss
2003 0.500 1 3 lost
2003-2009 0.486
2002 0.778 4 13 gained CS loss
2001 0.773 6 1 gained DS loss
2000 0.679 8 9 gained CS loss
1999 0.400 14.5 20.5 lost
1998 0.720 21.5 19 gained
1997 0.385 7 11 lost
1996 0.654 2.5 6 gained CS loss
1996-2002 0.626

Observation #7: La Russa’s early teams usually gained ground during the final month.

The data shows that in five of the seven early years (1996-2002), the Cardinals improved their position in the standings, either increasing their lead (twice), taking over the lead (once) or closing the gap between them and the first-place club (twice). Only twice in those seven years did the Cardinals lose ground in September.

Observation #8: In recent seasons, La Russa September clubs have slipped every single year.

The story is much different recently. In every one of the six complete seasons starting in 2003, the Cardinals have lost ground during September. Three times their lead shrunk, in one case they lost their lead completely (2003) and the most recent two seasons, they fell even further behind during the final full month.

One partial explanation could be that in two of the recent years, 2004 and 2005, the Cardinals leads were so large that perhaps losing a few meaningless September games didn’t really matter. Or did it?

Observation #9: Prior to 2009, neither of the two Cardinals teams with double-digit leads coming into September won the World Series, nor did the third team that ended the season with a lead greater than than ten games.

The 2009 club is in a similar situation, with a 10-½ game lead heading into the final month. The fact that both of the excellent, 100-win 2004 and 2005 teams did not make it to the top in October nor did the 2002 team that ended with a 13-game division cushion is impossible to ignore.

In closing, there are a myriad of possibilities for September underachievement, from non-contributing minor league call-ups to poor late-season acquisitions to an accumulation of injuries to a tired out roster to maybe even a bit of tightness.

Whatever the reasons for it, the facts are clear. September has been unkind to the Cardinals in recent years. With roughly half the month remaining, 2009 has all the potential of continuing the trend.

That doesn’t necessarily mean October failure will ensue.

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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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