The Cardinals are chasing the Milwaukee Brewers in the standings. The Brewers are hot and the Cardinals, while playing solid baseball lately, just cannot seem to make up any ground. They sit five games back of first place entering Monday’s action and are in dire need of a winning streak.
This season finds the Cardinals upside down when it comes to the subject of streaks. They have strung together four wins in a row seven separate times this year but have also been victim of a seven game losing streak. It is not a common problem for a Tony LaRussa led Cardinal club to have a longer losing streak than a winning streak. When it does happen, the team typically does not experience success.
Tony LaRussa arrived in St. Louis for the 1996 season, beginning his tenure with the ball club and returning the team to the playoffs after a lengthy absence. They would finish that season 88-74 with a six game lead over the Houston Astros and on their way into postseason play. During that year, from August 30 through September 7, the Cardinals would string off an eight game winning streak. Their longest losing streak would occur early in the season, from April 25 through May 1 and would last six games. Result: +2 streak factor, Cards win the division, lose the NLCS to Atlanta.
The return to success under Tony LaRussa would not find consistent success in the early days and 1997 would find the Cardinals struggling to put much together at all. They would finish with a 73-89 record, never seeing a day of the season above .500 and finishing in fourth place, eleven games behind the Astros. Twice during that season, from April 27 to May 1 and from June 28 to July 2, they were able to put together a five game win streak. As the season was coming to a close, from September 20 – September 26, they would drop seven straight contests. Result: -2 streak factor, Cards finish in fourth place.
The team was able to find winning ways again in 1998 during the magical summer of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. They would finish with a record above .500 at 83-79, but it would not be enough to eclipse the Houston Astros (or the Chicago Cubs). The end of the season would put the Cardinals in third place, 19 games behind the division winner. The Cardinals would experience a six game win streak towards the end of the year from September 15 until September 22. However, they would also go through two six game losing streaks from June 3 to June 8 and from August 21 until August 28. Result: even streak factor, Cards finish in third place.
Roller coaster seasons littered the early part of the LaRussa era and the team would close the century with a losing record, 75-86. A fourth place finish 21.5 games behind the division winning, and suddenly dominant, Houston Astros. The team would pull off a four game win streak twice during the season, once from April 13 to April 17 and once from July 22 to July 25. Later in the season, from August 23 through August 30, the team would drop seven straight contests, putting the finishing touches on another negative streak factor. Result: -3 streak factor, Cards finish fourth.
The Century would turn and so would the luck of the Cardinals as they would return to the top of the National League Central Division. A strong season would see a final record of 95-67 and a 10 game lead over the Cincinnati Reds. On July 27, the team would begin a four game losing streak that would end on July 30. During September, however, the team would rip off a seven game win streak from the 11th through the 17th. Result: +3 streak factor, Cards win the division, lose the NLCS to the Mets.
The start of the 2001 season would see the arrival of Albert Pujols, the finish would find the Cardinals tied with the Houston Astros. The Astros, however, won the season series and were awarded the division title and the Birds would arrive in the post-season as the Wild Card. The Cards would drop six straight at the end of June, from the 26 through July 3. They would answer in August, ripping an eleven game winning streak from the 9th through the 19th. Result: +5 streak factor, Cards win the Wild Card (tie for first), lose the NLDS to Arizona.
The Cardinals would find a groove and finish 2002 well in first place with a 97-65 record and no sign of sharing the title with rival Houston this time. They would eventually drop the NLCS, continuing their search for a return to the World Series, but along the way they would win eight straight games in September from the 3rd through the 11th. The longest losing streak they would endure would occur from July 31 to August 7, lasting seven games. Result: +1 streak factor, Cards win the division, lose the NLCS to the Giants.
The 2003 season would be one of the most competitive in Division Play history. The team would finish with an 85-77 record, yet wind up in third place despite only being three games behind the division winning Chicago Cubs. Early in the season, the team was able to string together seven wins from April 27 to May 4. Just before that, from April 19 to April 24, they would drop five in a row. Result: +2 streak factor, Cards finish third.
As 2004 arrived and came to a close, fans everywhere figured it was the year for the Cardinals. They would post an amazing 105-57 record and find their way back to the World Series for the first time since 1987. When you win that many games, losing streaks are not common, and it took until the end of the year before they dropped four in a row, from September 27 to September 30. In the heat of August, the team was able to begin a nine game win streak that would start on the 27th and last until September 5. Result: +5 streak factor, Cards win NL Pennant, lose the World Series to the Red Sox.
A second season in a row with triple digit wins, 2005 would end with the Cardinals on top of the division and winning exactly 100 games and dropping 62. Early in the season the club would post a six game win streak from April 21 through April 27. It is hard to call it a losing streak, but they would drop three straight games on three separate occassions – May 5 through 7, June 21 through 23, and September 22 through 24. Result: +3 streak factor, Cards win the division, drop the NLCS to Houston.
The 2006 season was an ugly year that ended up with the Cardinals having luck on their side. The team would only win 83 games (losing 78), but would find themselves on their way to the playoffs anyway. The strange season would see them piece together a seven game win streak from July 7 through July 16 and an eight game losing streak twice – June 20 through June 27 and July 27 through August 4. Many people expressed that the Cardinals “backed their way” into the playoffs and a world title, but the team never complained. Result: -1 streak factor, Cards win the World Series over Detroit.
If the team backed their way into the playoffs in 2006, it must have carried over to 2007. The team played horribly, finishing 78-84, seven games back of the division winning Chicago Cubs. Twice near the end of the season, from August 11 through the 16th and again from September 26 through 30th, they put together five game win streaks. Between them, from September 7 through September 15, they would drop nine straight contests. Result: -4 streak factor, Cards finish in third.
In 2008, the Cardinals would return to their winning ways. Unfortunately, so would the entire National League Central Division. The team would finish 86-76, which was only good enough for a fourth place finish, 11.5 games behind the division winning Cubs. They would enter September and drop seven straight games from September 10 through the 17th. From the 23rd through the 28th of the same month, they would win a season high six straight. Result: -1 streak factor, Cards finish fourth.
The following season the Cardinals would kick into high gear and post a 91-71 record, winning their division. They would post identical streaks of five, though they would win that many in a row six different times during the season – April 9-13, April 21-25, May 19-23, August 12-17, and finally from August 28 – September 2. The only time they would drop five in a row would occur from June 5 through June 9. Result: even streak factor, Cards win the division, lose the NLDS to the Dodgers.
Last season would see the Cincinnati Reds emerge as division champions, leaving the Cardinals to second place after a 86-76 season. On July 11 they would begin a eight game win streak that would come a close on July 21. A pair of five game losing streaks would hit the Cards on August 14 through August 20 and from August 28 through September 1. Result: +3 streak factor, Cards finish second.
Through 15 seasons under their current manager, the Cardinals have been able to compile a +13 streak factor, one World Championship, and 8 post-season appearances. If they expect to arrive in the postseason again, they need a winning streak to turn the standings around. Currently, the Cardinals find themselves at 65-56 and five games behind the Milwaukee Brewers. They have strung together four consecutive wins on seven occasions, however, they have dropped seven straight from June 10 through June 17. Current Result: -3 streak factor, Cards in second place.
Can the Cardinals turn it around and avoid a negative streak factor and a missed post-season? Time will tell, but it seems they need to find a hot streak.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.