Can the Cardinals keep it up?

Can the Cardinals keep it up?

Vegas watch: Can the Cardinals keep it up?
By Jacob Wheatley-Schaller

It’s still early. The Marlins have the best record in baseball and the Tigers are in last place. Chipper Jones is hitting .400, and Robinson Cano is batting .185. These things likely won’t last, but that doesn’t mean that none of the early season surprises will. About 40 games into the season, it’s time to start paying attention to some of the surprises, especially regarding teams rather than players, and seriously consider if they’re for real.

Which brings us to the St. Louis Cardinals, 23-16 and tied with the Cubs atop the NL Central.  Nobody expected this- PECOTA had them at 75 wins, and ESPN’s analysts were similarly pessimistic (even moreso, actually- Stark had them going 67-95). This wasn’t supposed to be a good team, and everyone thought they’d be a real disaster if Pujols ended up having surgery.

Well, at least so far, they’ve been far from a disaster. Their record so far isn’t an empty one- it fairly reflects their performance so far. They’ve outscored their opponents by 23 runs; based on that, we’d expect them to have about 22 wins at this point. Looking at the BP standings, they’ve played an extremely easy schedule- that explains about 2.4 wins. After all the adjustments, they’ve played like a .528 team so far, rather than a .590 team (as their W-L record would indicate). Still, that’s a lot better than the .463 level they were expected to play at prior to the season.

They’ve been able to do this, not surprisingly, by having a bunch of guys play way over their heads.  In an article on BP last week, Dayn Perry noted that they have no fewer than 12 guys playing at their 90th percentile PECOTA projection- nearly half the team.  It’s possible that a few of these guys will keep it up, and have breakout years.  But there’s no way that everybody keeps playing this well, which means it’s unreasonable to expect the Cardinals to play above .500 the rest of the way.

If they’d built up a large cushion in a weak division, this would be a problem.  Unfortunately for them, that’s not the case.  They haven’t separated themselves from the pack at all, since they’re only tied with Chicago for first.  Even if they play .500 the rest of the way- which is probably an overly optimistic assumption- they’d only finish with around 86 wins, which almost definitely wouldn’t be enough to win the division.

At first, it seems like the Cardinals are legitimate- they have a great record, and an equally impressive run differential.  But when you consider that they’ve played a very easy schedule, and that nearly 50 percent of their team is playing way over their heads, it’s hard to be as optimistic.  The Cardinals’ decline is unlikely to be dramatic, but it is quite likely that they’ll slowly fall off.  That’s something to keep in mind when betting on their games, as they’re likely to be overvalued because of their hot start and gaudy record.

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