Harian · September 30, 2021

Does Cardinals Hot Finish To Regular Season Mean Anything for the Playoffs?

There’s hot, there’s red hot, and then there is the surface of the sun. The Cardinals are somewhere beyond the sun right now, having won 17 straight entering their game Wednesday against the Brewers. The streak has proved fruitful: the Redbirds have clinched an MLB wild card spot and their third consecutive playoff appearance.

Many baseball experts are warning that the Cardinals may be a team to fear in the postseason based on their recent hot stretch. But how much does their winning streak matter? Will their success transfer to the playoffs?

I looked at the teams with the best record in their last 25 games of the season, going back to 1901 when the American and National Leagues emerged as the modern Major Leagues. The chart below shows every team in baseball history who won at least 20 of their last 25 games. Then I looked at how those teams fared in the postseason.

Most Wins In Final 25 Games of an MLB Season

TEAM YEAR WINS IN LAST 25G FINAL W/L POSTSEASON RESULT
OAK 2001 22 102-60 Lost ALDS
CHC 1935 22 100-54 Lost World Series
CLE 2017 21 102-60 Lost ALDS
STL 2002 21 97-65 Lost NLCS
CHW 1983 21 99-63 Lost ALDS
NYY 1960 21 97-57 Lost World Series
STL 1942 21 106-48 World Series Champion
STL 1930 21 92-62 Lost World Series
STL 2021 20 88-69 ?
CLE 2013 20 92-70 Lost Wild Card Game
DET 2011 20 95-67 Lost ALCS
NYY 1995 20 79-65 Lost ALDS
MON 1994 20 74-40 No Postseason
PHI 1983 20 90-72 Lost World Series
BAL 1970 20 108-54 World Series Champion
NYM 1969 20 100-62 World Series Champion
CLE 1952 20 93-61 Finished in 2nd Place
NYY 1952 20 95-59 World Series Champion
NYG 1951 20 98-59 Lost World Series
STL 1943 20 105-49 Lost World Series
STL 1934 20 95-58 World Series Champion
NYY 1927 20 110-44 World Series Champion
BRO 1920 20 93-61 Lost World Series
CIN 1918 20 68-60 Finished in 2nd Place
NYG 1916 20 86-66 Finished in 4th Place
CLE 1912 20 75-78 Finished in 5th Place
CHC 1906 20 116-36 Lost World Series
PHA 1902 20 83-53 No Postseason

The Cardinals only need to win three of their remaining five games to tie the 1935 Cubs and 2001 A’s as the hottest teams to close out a regular season. But they certainly have hopes to do better than those teams did.

In 1935, there were only eight teams in each league and no playoff round. So when the Cubs reeled off 22 wins in their last 25 games to zip past both the Giants and Cardinals atop the NL, they advanced directly to the World Series. In that Fall Classic they ran up against the Detroit Tigers, who dispatched them in six games to win their first championship.

The 2001 A’s were the pre-Moneyball team that was made famous in the movie starring Brad Pitt. This team still had Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon. Their great late-season stretch was unusual in that it didn’t come in a pennant or playoff race. On September 1, the A’s were helplessly 18 games back of the Mariners in the AL West. But Oakland had a firm grip on the AL Wild Card spot, and their 23-4 record in September and October only pushed them to 102 wins and a second place finish. They lost the AL Division Series in the series that featured the famous backhand flip play by Derek Jeter.

Six of th2 28 teams to have won 20 of their final 25 regular season games went on to win the World Series. But it hasn’t happened since the 1970 Baltimore Orioles. Half of them advanced to the World Series, but 11 of those 14 teams did it when there were no playoff rounds.

The Cardinals may be red-hot, but there is no evidence based on recent history that their winning streak near the end of the regular season predicts success in the postseason. Of the last five teams to win at least 20 of their final 25 games, only one has even advanced to the League Championship Series round.

For all the talk of “momentum,” it just really doesn’t exist.

Wild Card Teams Who Have Won the Pennant or World Series

Here’s something we should check in on as we prepare to enter the postseason next week. The NL wild card teams are pretty much set: the Cards are one, and either the Giants or Dodgers will be the other. In the AL there are five teams jostling for the two spots.

Regardless of which teams make the wild card this year, what are the chances they can get to the World Series? Win the World Series?

Here are the Wild Card teams that have won the pennant:

  • 1997 Marlins
  • 2000 Mets
  • 2002 Angels
  • 2002 Giants
  • 2003 Marlins
  • 2004 Red Sox
  • 2005 Astros
  • 2007 Rockies
  • 2011 Cardinals
  • 2014 Giants
  • 2014 Royals
  • 2019 Nationals

The teams in bold also won the World Series. That’s 12 Wild Card teams that have won a pennant and seven to win the Fall Classic.

Since the Wild Card was instituted for the 1995 season, there have been 80 Wild Card teams, and 12 have made it to the World Series. It’s roughly a one-in-seven chance that a Wild Card will get there based on history.