Fighting for the first game: Cardinals' struggles to win series -

Fighting for the first game: Cardinals' struggles to win series openers killing them

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By John Bailey By John Bailey

(BaseballStL) -- Here’s a phrase the St. Louis Cardinals could go the rest of the season without hearing; “The Cardinals tonight will try to avoid the sweep.”

Unfortunately, it’s one they’ve heard in three out of the last four series, just like a lot of teams who will watch the playoffs on television.

The basic formula for teams looking to make the playoffs is simple - win those three-game series. That’s how perennial contending teams manage the long season – by looking at every three-game series like a best of three playoff.

In a 162-game season, you can figure the rare sweeps even out both ways so winning two of every three nets a team 100 wins. Of course, no team wins every series, but winning most of them is the key to playing in October. 

The best way to put yourself in a position to win a series is to win the first game. Win every first game and you only have to play .500 the rest of the time to make the playoffs. That is what the Cards did so successfully last year and what they are not doing so well this year.

In five series so far in 2014 in which the Cards won the first game, they won four and tied one (Washington). In seven series this year, they lost the first game and have gone on to lose six of those seven. 

Not hard to see why a pre-season 7-1 shot to win the World Series is 19-19.

More troubling, in three of the last four series, the Redbirds have lost the first two games. For people really bad at math, that fact precludes the opportunity to win anything but a five-game series. And it makes the final game an act of desperation rather than a chance to gain ground and build confidence. 

Former Cardinal Rafael Furcal coined the term “happy flight” meaning winning the last game before leaving town for the next opponent. Not sure how happy the flight can be when the win narrowly avoided a sweep, like Sunday night.

The Cardinals hung on, but we’ve seen this movie before. Either Shelby Miller or Lance Lynn is staked to a 4-0 lead and promptly pitches himself and the team into trouble. Pitches pile up and the bullpen is called on to hang onto the lead until closer Trevor Rosenthal comes in, loads the bases and barely escapes a jam of his own making. Nothing about that win felt like the start of a long winning streak.

In fact, it’s very hard to mount a winning streak when one of your five starters throws 110 pitches in five innings and walks away the lead and another can’t focus long enough to put together 6 good innings.

If the Cardinals are going to turn around this season, it will start when they attack that first game like it is the biggest one they will play.

Because it is. 


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