Cardinals’ 12-game winning streak: four factors behind Saint-Louis streak

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A double-digit winning streak tends to invite magical thinking. The basic rules of probability no longer seem relevant: at some point it becomes easier to believe that the team will never lose again than that they will lose tomorrow, and any argument to the contrary seems a bit silly. When a streak lasts this long, it develops a warped and tenuous relationship with ordinary baseball logic – if a given win starts to seem nearly impossible, well, isn’t that all? trail supposed to be close enough to the impossible?

That was the backdrop for the Cardinals on Thursday, the hopeful and logic-defying backdrop for their attempt to extend an 11-game winning streak to 12. They did. And their victory still seemed absurd in those distant standards. (Even the most creative magical thinker might not have been able to see this one coming.) After falling behind the division-leading Brewers, they made eight unanswered points in the final frames to win. the match, sweep the series and extend their streak to the franchise’s longest since 1982.

The 8-5 win over the Brewers was unlikely and exhilarating. It was also near a perfect encapsulation of everything that went well for the Cardinals in September – a month that saw the team enjoy not only that winning streak, but a dramatic turnaround from their playoff odds, which went from “closed to non-existent” (6% on Sept. 1) to “almost guaranteed” (98% on Friday). How did Thursday’s win fit the big picture of all this success? Here’s what it took:

1. A Banner Day by Paul Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt’s first home run on Thursday tied the game. His second provided a final insurance run in the ninth inning. (That one even got him a kiss on the head of Adam Wainwright.) He certainly wasn’t the only offensive force in this comeback victory. But with his pair of home runs he was the most crucial, and if we’re using this game as a snapshot of the team’s recent success, it fits perfectly.

The first baseman had a perfectly adequate first half at home, down by his standards but still well above average. Since the All-Star Break, however, it has exploded:

MEAN OBP SLG BB / K OPS +

First half

.265

.335

.432

0.45

113

Second part

.323

.395

.591

0.56

165

There have been other offensive breakouts that have helped fuel that winning streak (Edmundo Sosa, anyone?), Just as there have been players who have always consistently contributed (Nolan Arenado and Tyler O ‘Neill). But the Cardinals’ hottest hitter of the second half, by far, has been Goldschmidt, and a two-homer day on his part captures the surge in the team’s recent offensive strength as well as anything from. other.

2. Stable performance of the lift pen

Of course, part of scoring eight unanswered runs is making sure the reliever pen stops anything that might turn into a response. Earlier this year, it might have seemed like a tall order for the Cardinals, who finished the first half as the relief corps with the highest rate of walk (5.38 for nine innings). But that’s another story now. There was no full-scale makeover here. Yet there have been significant improvements, and the result is an enclosure that is no longer a handicap, to say the least.

On Thursday it involved two solid innings of relief from former starter Kwan Hyun Kim, who has worked more as a swingman since returning from injury last month. This was ultimately followed by a save by Luís Garcia, which was a remarkably pleasant surprise for Saint-Louis. The 34-year-old shouldn’t be a particularly big addition mid-season. In early July, he was released by the Yankees, who hadn’t had him pitch a single major league pitch this season, and he was picked up a few days later by the Cardinals. But he’s been throwing better than he’s ever since, in part because of an increased reliance on his lead, which was on full display Thursday. Neither Kim nor Garcia were relief options here three months ago. Now? They are part of the core which gives this enclosure a much more stable appearance.

3. Do the little things well

Between Goldschmidt’s two home runs, there was a small ball, and it was very, very Baseball Cardinals. In the eighth inning, Dylan Carlson scored in right field while Nolan Arenado was first. Arenado managed to take the extra base and move up to third, and while the defense was trying to nail him, Carlson took advantage and finished second. It paid off almost immediately – with a passing ball on the next strike at bat. This allowed Arenado to come home for the go-ahead and Carlson, who would later score on a fly sack, to move up to third place.

Which fits very well with the way St. Louis approached the base race. No team has made fewer strikeouts on base trails this season than the Cardinals. But they did it while being quite aggressive. Their 81 stolen bases are the third highest in the NL, and they regularly take the extra base (43% of the time, also third in the NL). Add that to a generally strong defense, and you’ve got a team that’s great at finding value in. all pocket of the game, not just the most obvious.

4. Get lucky

But none of the above really sparked the return of the Cardinals. Instead, the crucial seventh inning scoring started with… one run on a forced out and one run on a pitch error. Which, of course, requires one-on-one baserunning and good preparation. But it also takes luck. It’s its own big component of a winning streak like this, and it’s its own component of everything the Cardinals did in September. There is an element of luck in the fact that these pieces come together at the same time. There is an element of luck in bringing them together in a way that results in actual wins, rather than good numbers and hard contact. And there is an element of luck in the fact that they come together well as the other teams in the wild card race fade away.

The Cardinals have been very, very good this month, and also very lucky. But that’s the beauty of a winning streak like this: It lasts long enough that you don’t have to try to figure out where the skill ends and the luck begins. Either way, the relationship to ordinary baseball logic has become completely distorted. All you have to do is believe.

More MLB coverage:
• How to judge Trevor Bauer
• Joey Votto finds satisfaction in abandoning perfection
• X-Factors for the National League playoff race



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