Cardinals Play At The Level Of Their Opponent

If you have ever played on or been the coach of a team that is as maddeningly frustrating as the Cardinals have been this year, you have no doubt wondered why your team could never beat the teams you were supposed to beat, but found ways to win the tough ones against big opponents that you had no business beating. As a new coach, I am hoping I never experience a season like the Cardinals’ 2010 schedule so far, because I am not sure there are enough clichés in the book to cover what I would have to tell my team on a daily basis.

You know the phrases. One night you “just could not put it all together.” The next you “lost a tough one, but you have to tip your cap to the other team.” Eventually you tell the team that we “just got out-played tonight.” Sometimes you let on that we “should have won that one, and let it slip away.” Of course, depending on the team/coach, these statements could quickly escalate into more colorful language, but you get the point.

People have been bemoaning the fact that the Cardinals keep losing games to cellar-dweller teams such as the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks this year, but rise to the challenge against teams such as the Philadelphia Philles, Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers, all of whom have winning records on the year. What truth is there to this thought process? Are the Cardinals really playing down/up to the level of their opponent on any given night?

As of right now, the Cardinals’ record against winning teams is 32-24. Eight games over .500 is not particularly solid, but it is nothing to sniff at, especially considering a 19-10 record against the four teams that are leading their division (Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Diego) and the wild card (Philadelphia). Against the teams the Cards could face if/when they make it to the playoffs, they have not faltered. Here is the entire list of winning teams, along with their record against the home club:

  • Atlanta (4-0)
  • Cincinnati (10-5)
  • Colorado (0-3)
  • Florida (2-2)
  • LA Angels (2-1)
  • LA Dodgers (4-3)
  • Philadelphia (4-4)
  • San Diego (1-2)
  • San Francisco (3-3)
  • Toronto (2-1)

So if that was the winning side of things, what about against all the lovable losers floating around the majors this year? Through Saturday’s 14-5 embarrassment against the Washington Nationals, the Cardinals are sporting a 36-35 record against teams that are under .500 on the year. That is unacceptable in every sense of the word. There is no explanation for playing so poorly against such poor competition. Derrick Goold rightly points out that Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan have shifted the lineup so the big three of Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia face tougher opposition, specifically for the Reds, but that does not in and of itself justify the fact that the team is a mere two games above breaking even against teams that are unable to break even themselves. Again, here is the entire list of these teams:

  • Arizona (5-4)
  • Chicago (4-5)
  • Houston (5-7)
  • Kansas City (1-2)
  • Milwaukee (6-6)
  • New York (3-3)
  • Oakland (1-2)
  • Pittsburgh (6-3)
  • Seattle (2-1)
  • Washington (3-2)

With 35 games left to play before season’s end, and only 16 of them against teams that have winning records (including four each against the Braves and Padres and three against Cincinnati), the window is quickly closing as to how much damage the Cardinals will be able to inflict on other teams in the division races. The upcoming series against Cincinnati this weekend will be the last chance the team has to directly influence the Central race, and will have to rely on division foes to beat Cincinnati down the home stretch to give them a leg up.

Ultimately, the Cardinals simply have to play better against losing teams. They cannot play down to the level of their competition, or they will be joining those same teams on their couches come October. They have the talent, but they have to have the drive to win and play up to their potential as well, especially on those days where the competition just does not match up.

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for, and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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