St. Louis Cardinals – Better Than Last Season?

The World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals just might be better this season than they were last year, with Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa, when they went into the postseason as a wild-card team and went on to beat the Texas Rangers in 7 games. This year, all the stats show this team is better in 2012, but the win-loss record tells us different.

The Cardinals, at the moment, are 67-56, 8 games behind the red hot Cincinnati Reds (76-49) who are on pace to win 98 games this season. The Cardinals finished 90-72 last season behind the Milwaukee Brewers who finished with a 96-66. They’re right up there with the Atlanta Braves for the two wild-card sports, although the race is pretty close at the moment with the Pirates, Dodgers and Diamondback still in the NL race.

So, how is it that the team with the best Weighted On-Base Average in the league (.333) and the third best pitching staff according to Fielding Independent Pitching numbers (3.61) which are usually pretty good measures in telling what makes or breaks a good team is pretty much the same as last season in terms of their record? It can’t be just that the Reds are having an unexpected crazy season, right?

Kyle Lohse is having a great season, going 13-2 with a 2.61 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP and WAR of 3.7. Yadier Molina is having a tremendous season at catcher (.321, 16 home runs, 59 RBIs) and Matt Holiday is also with a 3.7 WAR season so far. Even guys who came off the bench to step up for Lance Berkman, Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter, are hitting better than he would’ve have anyway.

You guessed it – the problem is the bullpen, the Achilles heel of every good offense and rotation crew. With a 4.32 FIP, the Cardinals have the third-worst bullpen in the national league. The Cincinnati Reds, the NL Central leaders, have the best bullpen in the NL. Some managerial in-game decisions, mostly involving sacrifice bunts and other decisions that have hurt the team when it comes to the small numbers over a longer period of time.

Their Pythagorean winning percentage is .601, second best in the NL. Last year it was .543. In pretty much every aspect, the Cardinals are a better team, but somehow manage to lose a bit more games than they should. Bullpen can’t be blamed for everything, and it might go down to their decision making in one-run games and clutch situations, leading to a 13-21 record in one-run games. It might not be scientific, but it explains why they’re a bit behind teams that simply find more ways to win, even when the numbers suggest otherwise.

Image: Source Stats: ESPN