Will the Cards’ momentum carry them through October?Image: Getty Images
The Cardinals’ team-record winning streak has gotten St. Louis into the playoffs, but the old saying in baseball is that momentum is only the next day’s starting pitcher, and as good as the Redbirds have been in September, bringing home a first World Series championship since 2011 remains a longshot.
As Jay Jaffe wrote over at Fangraphs, in a piece he’s compelled to repeat in some fashion every year because this is always a topic, a hot September means nothing in October. It’s always interesting, always goes against our memories of teams like the 2007 Rockies, and always comes with a caveat that just because there’s no relationship between teams’ September and October form, it doesn’t mean that a hot team down the stretch in the regular season can’t also be hot through the playoffs.
Beyond the Cardinals being hot in September, their winning streak — currently 17 games — puts them behind a historical 8-ball. St. Louis is the 14th team in modern MLB history to have a winning streak this long, and only three have won the World Series: the 1906 White Sox, 1947 Yankees, and 1953 Yankees.
Regardless of how hot they are and what that doesn’t mean, there’s a much bigger reason to believe that the Cardinals have something to be worried about in October. Despite playing in the National League, where pitchers are in the batting order, Cardinals pitchers have recorded the fewest strikeouts in the majors. No team has ever won the World Series with a pitching staff that did that, and what’s worse, St. Louis pitching has issued the second-most walks in the majors.
St. Louis isn’t the only team that will go into October battling history. The most regular-season strikeouts by a team that went on to win the World Series is the 1,339 times that Cubs batters in 2016 went down without putting the ball in play. Of this year’s contenders, only the Astros (1,189 entering Wednesday), Cardinals (1,306), and A’s (1,317) haven’t already eclipsed that mark — the latter two likely will, and Oakland may not even make the playoffs.
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The Brewers have blown past that number, to 1,409 strikeouts so far, but they’re doomed anyway, because no team has ever thrown a combined no-hitter in the regular season and gone on to win the World Series. Atlanta did win a pennant in 1991 after Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers, and Alejandro Peña twirled a gem, and so did the 2018 Dodgers and 2019 Astros, but none could claim the Commissioner’s Trophy.
The other problem for Milwaukee? It’s generally not good when one of your best pitchers breaks his throwing hand by punching a wall during your clinching celebration. You don’t need any arcane history for that, other than the entire sad lore of the Brewers, and Devin Williams now getting his own chapter.