September 30, 2021

St. Louis Cardinals Just Made the Most Improbable Run to the MLB Playoffs

Three weeks ago, FanGraphs gave the Cardinals just a 2.8% chance at making the MLB playoffs. Then a 17-game winning streak happened. Not only is that a franchise record, but it has also brought the Cardinals back from the dead and has locked up the second NL Wild Card spot.

While winning 17 games in a row is impressive in itself, when they did it, how they did it, and how they were able to lock up a playoff spot after being an afterthought is what makes this very impressive. It is not the longest winning streak in baseball history, sure, but it might be the most impressive, given the context. 

Defying the Odds

After struggling in June to the tune of a 10-17 record, the Cardinals' playoff odds dipped into the single digits until the winning streak began in September. 

At one point in August, the Cardinals had only a 1.4% chance at making the playoffs. No team since Fangraphs started keeping track of playoff odds has reached the postseason after having those low of odds after the All-Star Break.

Simply put, the Cardinals had no chance at making the postseason in 2021. 

Unlikely Heroes

During the unlikely winning streak, the Cardinals lead all of baseball with a .531 slugging percentage and they tied the Blue Jays with 31 home runs during the streak. They also have a team slash line of .289/.340/.531 with a .871 OPS.

They have gotten a big boost from some unlikely sources during the now-gone winning streak. Harrison Bader, who is more known for his elite center field skills, batted .400 with an OPS of 1.179 during the streak. While Tyler O'Neill has been red-hot for all of September. He has a slash line of .310/.364/.690 with a 1.054 OPS. He also has 11 home runs, 27 RBI, and 69 total bases.

The usual suspects such as Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have also been very good. Along with O'Neil, Goldschmidt and Arenado are among the eight hitters with 10+ home runs, and those three all have hit 30+ home runs.

Late-Season Collapses

Since 1900, there have been roughly 400 teams that have gone on winning streaks of 10+ games. There have been just 14 squads to win 17 games in a row. They fall nine games short of the all-time record, but the ground that they made up has been the most bizarre part.

When the winning streak began on Sept. 10, the Cardinals sat at 71-69, and trailed both the Reds (75-67) and the Padres (75-66) for the second NL Wild Card spot. Obviously, they will not catch either the Dodgers or Giants for the top spot.

With the Brewers having full control of this division since practically the first game of the season, the Cardinals needed to go on a run, and get some help from other teams to have a chance at the playoffs. Well, you would not be reading this if that did not exactly happen. 

Since the start of the winning streak, the Padres went 3-13, the Reds did slightly better at 7-9, and the Phillies and Mets, who both were within a game of the Cardinals, have been eliminated from the playoffs as well.

The Cardinals streak is impressive, but everything went right outside of just winning as well.

Team of Destiny?

What is their prize for having such an improbable run to the playoffs? Well, they will have to travel to either San Francisco or Los Angeles for a one-game elimination Wild Card. Luckily for them, they will be able to save their key arms for that showdown. The assumption is that Adam Wainwright will get the start against whomever they face. He will receive eight days of rest before the Wild Card game.

They are well-rested, they are hot, and the pressure of winning is finally over. The Pitching has been shaky all year but with the bullpen being lights out during the streak, there is hope.

Can they go on a World Series run? Probably not in this loaded National League. However, their run to the playoffs has been impressive, and something that will be remembered in St. Louis for a long time.

Photo: Getty Images