The St. Louis Cardinals are 25-24, and while most baseball markets would dream for a .510 winning percentage to be considered a devastating step back, St. Louis has certainly seen better from the Cardinals. The start to the season is made especially more disappointing given how much confidence there was in the Cardinals to start the season–despite the division as a whole, particularly the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, improving, the off-season addition of Paul Goldschmidt was considered the move which would solidify the Cardinals’ lethal lineup, while the addition of veteran reliever Andrew Miller would bolster the bullpen.
Last season, the Cardinals were 26-21 heading into Memorial Day weekend. They were 23-21 in 2017. These were the types of seasons the Cardinals were trying to avoid. And now, the fourth-place club, thanks to a dreadful 6-14 May to this point, appear that they may be on the precipice of disaster. And, by and large, St. Louis doesn’t seem to care.
The biggest story in St. Louis, sports or otherwise, is the St. Louis Blues, the National Hockey League team which has already been the de facto subject of multiple posts I’ve written since the Stanley Cup Playoffs began because, frankly, I’m part of the St. Louis herd as well. On Tuesday, the Blues clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1970, the final of three seasons in which the team won a division comprised entirely of expansion teams in order to face, and get swept by, an already-established “Original Six” team. If the Blues win just one game against the Boston Bruins, they will have accomplished something the franchise never accomplished in its previous 51 seasons.
St. Louis baseball luminaries Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright attended the series clincher at Enterprise Center on Tuesday night, receiving a raucous ovation from the crowd. The duo were able to attend the game thanks that night’s Cardinals game at Busch Stadium being rained out. The postponement was announced at 2:19 p.m., over four hours before first pitch, before any rain had actually fallen in St. Louis, and…look, it did eventually rain and I’m not saying this was a complete farce, but I will blindly speculate that the Cardinals were more than happy to play a game on Wednesday night, when they wouldn’t have to compete with the Blues for local eyeballs, rather than on Tuesday night, when most of their players, much less their fans, would rather be watching something else.
The Cardinals have won titles in the lifetime of everybody reading this website (probably?) and the Blues haven’t won a title ever. The Cardinals have won four titles since the Blues’ inception, and thus, for large numbers of people who consider the Blues even a distant second sporting passion behind the Cardinals, they are fully emotionally invested in hockey. The Cardinals are having one of their worst months in recent memory and it has gone practically unnoticed.
In a sense, the Blues are returning the favor to the Cardinals. The nadir of Blues hockey in my lifetime was during the mid-2000s, particularly in 2006, when the Blues had the worst record in the NHL and secured the #1 overall pick in the NHL Draft (while the list of #1 overall draft picks of the 2000s is littered with future slam-dunk Hall of Famers, the Blues selected Erik Johnson, a competent but completely ordinary defenseman). The Blues’ awful season concluded a few months after the Cardinals had wrapped up their second consecutive 100+ win season, and a few months later, while Blues partisans had a sour taste in their mouths, the Cardinals won the World Series.
25-24, of course, is a winning record, and there are 113 games left in the season, so it’s not as though the Cardinals season is over. But the Cardinals’ current win pace of 83 is probably not going to be enough to make the postseason, so it is going to require an improvement in overall performance to make it to October and render St. Louis not paying attention to early regular season hockey (I’m sure both teams would trade having some early games go relatively unnoticed in exchange for local postseason ubiquity).
Say, for instance, you picked the Cardinals to win 88 games, the number I think I picked the Cardinals to win in my head (pro tip: avoid making projections whenever you can). Basic arithmetic tells me that in order to reach exactly 88 wins, the Cardinals would need to go 63-50 for the remainder of the season. This isn’t outlandish, but it requires the Cardinals to play at a 90 win pace. Again, very possible, but it requires slight optimism to get the Cardinals there. Even if you assume the Cardinals are as good as you thought they would be in terms of true talent, and that they will play up to that expectation going forward, they’ve already dug themselves a hole.
The math gets even dicier if you had loftier expectations. MLB.com’s Will Leitch, for one example, picked the Cardinals to win 95 games this season–it’s more optimistic than I was, but I don’t think, his transparent Cardinals fandom aside, it was a ridiculous prediction. This now requires a 100-win pace. In the 21st century, 77 teams have won 95 or more games, while just 22 have won 100 or more. Team win distribution is largely a bell curve, and once we get to 95 wins, the distribution drops considerably. And not that I saw anybody who picked the Cardinals to set a franchise record for wins in a season, but in order to top the 2004 Cardinals and win 106 games, the Cardinals would have to win at a 116-win (the most wins ever attained in a full MLB season) pace to do it. Better get started soon, boys!
But while the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues have offered Cardinals fans a distraction from a disappointed, if not quite tumultuous, 2019 baseball season, the Blues are also setting a completely unrealistic expectation for the Cardinals. Like the Cardinals, the Blues had a less-than-ideal stretch to begin the season, but unlike the Cardinals, the Blues were legitimately bad. Famously, in early January, the Blues were in last place in the entire NHL. And now they are four wins away from winning the Stanley Cup. In the same way that the 2006 Cardinals created this absurd notion that an 83-win team will win the World Series, the 2018-19 Blues will, win or lose in the Finals, give false hope to countless terrible NHL teams that their awful first thirds of the season can be overcome.
Also, you didn’t think I was going to mention that the Cardinals once won a World Series with 83 wins in the same article that I mentioned that the 2019 Cardinals are on pace for 83 wins without drawing a parallel between the two, did you?
Despite how hard Molina, Wainwright, and other Cardinals players have cheered for the Blues, there is no real causation between one team’s success and another’s. It is convenient for many of us that a lackluster Cardinals start coincides with an incredible Blues run, but St. Louis is one weird bounce in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals away from having to face the reality of an underperforming team. And I will continue to enjoy this Blues run for as long as I can, hopefully culminating with a victory parade throughout downtown St. Louis which will allow me a few weeks of solace before I start getting mad about the Cardinals again.
(If you’re interested in more “I write about one thing but really I write about the Blues” content, I contributed an article for SoundWordsSTL.com this week about “Gloria”, the hilariously dated 1982 hit which the Blues adopted as their victory song this season)