As hope ebbs and flows for the 2016 Cardinals, fans still invoke 2006 as an example of what can happen. One should not confuse can with will, however, but there is still hope.
So since hope dies last, let’s take a quick look at how the 2006 Cardinals team that finished 83-78 and ended World Series Champions compares with the 2016 Cardinals, which is not playing like a World Series Champion but still has a pulse.
In the second half, the 2006 team was 35-39 and had a losing record in both August (13-15) and September (12-16). And October, actually (0-1). The 2016 Cards are 36-33 since the break, 14-13 in August and so far are 12-13 in September. Not a lot of difference, but a slight edge to this year’s squad.
In 2006, the Cards were 22-27 in one run games; this year’s team is 22-22. Interleague is about a push, 5-10 a decade ago, 8-12 this year. Blowouts are nearly even, 30-23 in 2006, 30-20 this year, although Monday’s game should count for two or three as pathetic as that was. But, the 2006 Cards once allowed 20 runs in a game, so we’ll call that even.
And, of course, the 2006 team was 49-31 at home and this team is 34-42 at Busch, a record, coincidentally, that is just about the same as the 2006 road record.
The world champs were 10-10 in walk-off games, this year the Cards are 6-8. Both teams were shut out eight times. The 2006 Redbirds had a seven-game win streak but an eight-game losing streak. This year’s longest streak is five in both directions.
The main difference? In 2006, the Cards were in first place for 129 days. They were never under .500 and at one time were 16 games over. They faded in the second half, but ended the season first in the division, if only because the rest of the teams were so bad.
This year’s team has been three games under .500 and no more than nine over, having failed on multiple occasions to go 10 better than the league. And they spent zero days in first place.
Besides the difficulty in winning at Busch, the difference between the two teams is the 2006 club played from a position of strength, albeit as a somewhat shaky division leader. This team never seriously challenged for anything other than what they are right now, a wild card team trying to play less bad than other failing teams.
There is something to be said about being on top and trying to stay there that brings out the competitive fire in a club. Conversely, being unable to defend a division championship from the first day of the season tends to bring out a different emotion – resignation. The 2006 Cardinals played like a champion when it counted. This team has five days to prove it can, too.