Doing The Difficult

It has been 43 years since the St. Louis Cardinals appeared in consecutive World Series.  One has to go back before the advent of divisional play to find the last instance:  1967-68.  The Cardinals have won the National League in back-to-back years twice before, 1930-31, and 1942-44.  The Cardinals have never won the Fall Classic in consecutive years; the 1942 and 1944 titles are the closest they’ve ever come to accomplishing that.

Winning two straight titles is hard for teams not named the New York Yankees, and especially hard for National League franchises.  The first team to do so – the 1907-1908 Chicago Cubs – has not won a World Series since.  A historical oddity, sure, but let’s not miss a chance to tweak Cub fans. The list of NL franchises who have successfully defended their title is short and sweet.

  • Chicago Cubs (successful defense in 1908)
  • New York Giants (successful defense in 1922)
  • Cincinnati Reds (successful defense in 1976)

That’s it.  A National League franchise has successfully defended its title once since the end of the Dead Ball Era.  St Louis will have to defy 9o years of history to join the Cincinnati Reds as the only NL team to accomplish the feat since Babe Ruth played.

That’s not the only challenge, of course – the Cardinals have to win the NL first to play for the World Title.  For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume St Louis qualifies for the playoffs either as a wild card or the NL Central champs.  As you might expect, it is considerably more difficult to win the National League today under the current post-season format.  During the 65 seasons when the league’s best record played in the World Series, a team won back-to-back NL titles 17 times.  Said another way, a defending champ had a 1 in 4 chance of a successful league title defense.  Since the playoff system was instituted, only 11% of World Series included an NL participant who was there the previous year (5 of 42).  The AL percentages are higher across the board, thanks to some team called the Yankees, but even in the AL there has been a drop in repeats since 1968.

Does this mean St Louis will not repeat?  No; each season is unique, just like each team is unique.  The loss of Albert Pujols weakened the middle of the order, but the acquisition of Carlos Beltran should replace most of that lost offense.  The return of Adam Wainwright makes the 2012 rotation far stronger than the 2011 version.  St Louis has as good a chance of repeating as World Champs as any recent team.  The hardest part won’t just be winning the Series; it will be getting there in the first place to defend their title.

Mike Metzger is a baseball writer based in San Diego. He also blogs about the Padres. Follow him on Twitter.

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