Playing to the level of competition

by on June 22, 2008 · 0 comments

It has been only a few days since the Cardinals were swept in a three-game series by the lowly Kansas City Royals.  In the two games since that sweep, the Cardinals have beaten the reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox by scores of 5-4 and 9-3.  So, immediately following three straight losses to a (currently) 32-43 team, the Cards stand on the verge of taking three straight wins from a (currently) 46-31 team with the best record in the American League.

Makes sense right?

Interestingly enough, there is anecdotal evidence that the Cardinals have been playing this game with their opponents all season.  If a team is “challenging” to them, they seem to step up their game to match the opposition.

Take into account, for instance, the Cardinals have losing records versus four teams in their season series’ this year:  Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Kansas City.  They have dropped five of nine against both the Brewers and Pirates, lost four of seven to the Giants, and of course the goose-egg with the Royals.  Their overall record versus these four teams is 11-17.

Ok, so Milwaukee at 40-34 is a pretty decent ballclub, and rising in the standings.  So remove them from the equation and the Cards are 7-12 against the 36-39 Pirates, the 32-43 Giants, and the aforementioned 32-43 Royals.

Conversely, the Birds have won series with the NL Central-leading Cubs, the NL East-leading Phillies, the AL-East leading Red Sox (still with one to play), and the AL Wild Card-leading Rays.  They’re good for a 8-3 record (with today’s outcome still pending) against those teams.

Sure, they’ve beat up on teams with losing records too, like the Nationals to the tune of 5-1 (should’ve been two sweeps).  They’ve taken eight of twelve from the Houston Astros.  Their overall record versus teams with records under .500 is 32-24.  This isn’t terrible compared with other leading clubs in the National League, like Philadelphia (32-21) and Arizona (35-22).  The Cubs, however, are beating up on patsies at a 38-17 clip.

How do those same teams fare versus those opponents with records over .500?  The D’Backs are horrendous at 4-14.  The Phillies and Cubs respectable at 10-13 and 9-11 respectfully.  The Cardinals?  12-8.

Now, at this point you’re probably realizing what I hadn’t either until researching for this post.  None of the teams at the top have really played each other.  Barely better than a quarter of the Cardinals’ games this season have come against teams with winning records.  They still have lots of games remaining versus the “upper echelon” of the National League.  They have twelve games remaining with the Cubs, six remaining with the Brewers, six with Philly, seven against the Florida Marlins (that could have serious Wild Card implications), and seven games versus Arizona.  They’ve also got today’s game with Boston and then a three-game set with a scorching-hot Detroit club.

It would seem that they are going to need to maintain their good start against >.500 teams if they are to maintain their position in the standings.  In the meantime, it would seem like Tony needs to find a way to light a fire against the “lesser” teams.  A good start would be to return the favor when they finish this road-trip in Kansas City next weekend.

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Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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