The St. Louis Cardinals are 20 games over .500 and June just started. At this pace, they will win 110 games en route to the best record in baseball. Their starting pitchers are the best in baseball, their hitting balanced, their fielding nearly flawless and their minor league system churns out an endless supply of talent.
STOP IT! Stop saying this just can’t get any better because if it can’t get any better, it can only get worse. And, because baseball is a cruel mistress, it can before you know it.
So get some humility and enjoy it while it lasts. Weaknesses are never obvious until they present so here are five things that could jeopardize this wonderful season.
1). Too many rookie pitchers. Yes they’ve been sensational but the Cardinals have pitched six different rookies so far and we are only a third of the way through the season. Starting pitchers in Triple A don’t take the ball every five days. Adrenalin will only take you so far. Consistency over the course of many months of travel, hotel food, bus rides, late nights, sore arms, and the oppressive St. Louis summer will be difficult to maintain.
2). We don’t have a thumper. Right now, that’s no issue because everyone in the line-up is contributing. The Cardinals have a batting average of nearly .330 with men is scoring position, which is both awe-inspiring and scary because it is highly unlikely to continue. A guy who can hit the 3-run homer and carry a team for a week or two is something we don’t have.
3). Lack of big game experience. Before you say “WHAAAT?” consider this; only 9 players remain from the 2011 World Series team. True, those 9 are the heart of the team. But a lot of guys – see #1 - have never been through the whole pennant/play-off chase. Unless you’ve done it, you don’t know that games in the last month of the season and the play-offs are faster and more intense than you can ever realize.
4). The Pirates and the Reds aren’t going away. As well as the Birds have played, those two pesky clubs are right with them. The Pirates have a history of fading down the stretch but the longer they hang around, the more they are going to believe they can stay in the race. Ask the 2011 Cardinals when they thought they were out of it. And the Reds, well, they just keep steady winning. They may not be lovable, or even likable, but in baseball all that matters is wins and losses and over the past several years, they have consistently been at or near the top. And they are not big Cardinal fans.
5). The Black Swan event. A narrative that has gained popularity in recent years, a Black Swan event is something unexpected which dramatically changes the expected course. Being from Chicago, I recall the 1969 Chicago Cubs who were 84-52 in September and seemed destined to play in their first World Series since 1945. On Sept. 9 in Shea Stadium, a black cat ran onto the field during a ballgame and writers joked about a curse. We all know what happened. It wasn’t a curse, of course, but psychologically, once the Cubs began to lose, they enjoyed it so much they have lost ever since. Incredibly, the Mets gained 17 ½ games on them in the last third of the season while the Lovable Losers were dropping 17 of their final 25.
More recently, in 2011, the Atlanta Braves had an 80-55 record in September and an 8½-game lead before their collapse. That same year, the Boston Red Sox enjoyed a 9-game lead on Labor Day and were cruising with a calculated 99.6 percent chance of making the play-offs. They lost 18 of their final 24 and blew a lead in the bottom of the 9th on the last day of the season while Tampa Bay won in extra innings.
As I said, baseball is a cruel mistress.