"TOWER GROVE — It doesn’t take much more than a box score or a glance at the season-ending statistics to know that if the Cardinals reduced their late-inning drama — some would say trauma — they are in contention until the final week, if not having a workout day today.
When it came to finishing games, the Cardinals reed relief this offseason.
In this, the 601st post at Bird Land since the re-design, we begin a season wrapup week with a twist. Call it What If Week. I want to take a look at some things that happened this season, and how they could have happened differently. The questions will range from offense to injuries, absences to, in today’s case, abbreviations. The goal isn’t to determine What If Matt Clement Won 17 Games?, rather to take a look at some issues that can be measured or considered through a speculative prism.
Today: What If … Games Were Only 8 Innings Long?*
(* For entertainment purposes only.)
The Cardinals’ bullpen fell short of the record for blown saves in a season, finishing with 31 this season, and they were second in the league to San Diego with 31 losses. Eight-one times this season the Cardinals led going into the ninth inning. They were 81-62-19. Recently, over at ESPN.com, Jayson Stark put the Mets’ bullpen troubles in perspective by printing what the standings would be like if games ended after the sixth inning. I went through at the end of the season and did the same for every division, ranking teams by their record after the eighth inning and the seventh inning.
Colleagues said to just lop off the ties, so that’s what I did.
Here is the standings if games …
ENDED AFTER THE EIGHTH INNING
(winning teams; no ties)
NY Mets 85-62
LA Dodgers 74-68
Obviously the ties will sway the standings, but if games ended after the eighth inning and they win the ties at the same rate as the other games … well, the Cardinals are in the playoffs. Not only are they in the playoffs, but they have the third-best record in the National League. And, lookee here, Shea Stadium is still hosting ballgames.
I wonder if this exercise actually helps quantify the importance of a closer, or a series of shutdown relievers. It certainly does anecdotally: Philadelphia, which is out of the playoffs in the above standings, was one of two teams in the NL to not lose a game it led after eight innings. The Phillies went 79-0.
Two words: Brad Lidge.
Three more: Cy Young candidate.
For the Cardinals this appears to hoist the season on the bullpen — and to a large extent that’s not unreasonable — but lopping off the ninth inning from the standings doesn’t only reveal the relievers. Manager Tony La Russa recently said that the Cardinals did in the final week what they struggled to do most of the season: Add on. His point is that the team could have made life easier on the bullpen had they not left the relievers with such tight games to handle in the late innings.
There’s a lot of truth there. The sheer number of decisions that the relievers had this season show that the Cardinals were involved in many close games. The standings above don’t say how many runs those games were won by — a one-run lead in the eighth is the same as a seve-run lead in the eighth when you don’t play the ninth.
When you play the ninth, it’s far different.
The thing is, the Cardinals have offense, over the season, produced pretty well late in games (National League rank in parentheses), though not necessarily the needed runs late in games:
Offense Innings 1-6: .287 (1)/.354 (1)/.441 (5) … 551 runs (4).
Offense Innings 7+: .270 (1)/.342 (2)/.417 (3) … 228 runs (8).
The What If question takes on more gravity when we cut off two innings. No team in the National League had more leads going into the eighth inning than the Cardinals. If games ended after the seventh inning, the Cardinals would be 87-56-19 (.596). The what-if standings say it all:
Cardinals … 87-56
Chicago … 86-57
Milwaukee … 77-60
Houston … 71-70
Cincinnati … 59-83
Pittsburgh … 52-87
NY Mets … 83-60
Philadelphia … 75-64
Florida … 70-75
Atlanta … 69-75
Washington … 51-86
Arizona … 79-65
LA Dodgers … 75-71
Colorado … 67-82
San Francisco … 58-79
San Diego … 53-88
So, What If Games Ended After the 7th Inning? … Arizona would be in town for the opener of the division series, the Cubs would be the Wild Card and the Mets wouldn’t have had a second meltdown in two Septembers. The Cardinals would be having a workout this afternoon, and La Russa would yet to have announced who would be starting Game 1 against Brandon Webb. It’s either Chris Carpenter or Mark Mulder. Check back here for the news when it’s announced …"
Posted by Matt Clapp | 9/30/2008 12:33:00 PM | Chicago Cubs, Derrick Goold, NL Central, St. Louis Cardinals, St Louis Dispatch, Tony LaRussa
You thought we would admit our own defeat didn't you? Well, not just yet. The St. Louis Dispatch and their writer Derrick Goold currently take the cake, for a blog Goold did titled, "What if... Games were 7 innings long?" The season's over for the Cardinals Derrick, time to accept it. We could do a million "what if's" in every sport every season. The game isn't changing to 7 innings any time soon because these are not 12-year-olds or women we are talking about. Anyway, I could rant about everything that drives me nuts about this for hours, but just read it for yourself: