Tuesday, September 26, 2006

September Swoon

by Jeremy Bird

What the hell is happening to the St. Louis Cardinals?

Last Wednesday, the team’s magic number stood at five. The Reds were 7½ games out of first, and the Astros stood 8½ back. St. Louis was in cruise control on its way to another division title and home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

After six straight losses and a horrendous four-game sweep at the hands of the Astros, St. Louis is poised for one of the most unbelievable late-September collapses in baseball history.

The current St. Louis swoon could become baseball’s worst meltdown of all time. Should the Cards complete their nose-dive over the last six games of the season, it will overcome some of the most notable late-September swoons.

The 1969 Chicago Cubs

Of course, you would expect the Cubs to feature prominently in any talk of baseball meltdowns. In ’69, Chicago led the New York Mets by 9½ games on August 13th. By the end of August the Cubs’ lead was down to two games. And, it kept getting worse as things tend to do on the northside of Chicago.

In September, the Cubs saw their once large lead turn into a nightmare, losing eight in a row in September while the Mets won 10 straight. The Cubs finished eight games out of first and failed to make the playoffs for the 25th straight year. The ’69 Cubs are high on the list partially because they fell so far out of first in September.

But, the Cards current meltdown is far worse than the 1969 Cubs. The Cubs took two months to unravel and lose their 9½ game lead. It has taken the Cards less than a week to nearly blow an 8½ game lead.

Only one other late-season collapse comes close to mirroring the Cardinals’ recent slide.

The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies

This one hurts for Phillies fans out there.

In ’64, Philadelphia was the best team in baseball for 150 games. Then, the team lost 10 straight games and saw its 6½ game lead disappear. Ironically, the St. Louis Cardinals overtook the Phillies and won the pennant that year by one game. (The Cardinals went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series).

The Phillies’ collapse has haunted Philadelphia fans for years. The book The September Swoon recounts the 1964 free-fall, which has been called “the greatest late-season collapse in Major League baseball history.”

There were the 1934 Giants, the 1938 Pirates, the 1942 Dodgers, the 1951 Dodgers, the 1987 Blue Jays, the 1993 Giants, and the 1995 Angels. But, none of them blew it quite as horribly and quickly as the ’64 Phils. Until now.

If the 1964 Phillies are considered the worst late-September chokers in baseball history, the 2006 Cardinals are making a run to overtake them. The ’64 Phils led by 6½ with 12 to play. The ’06 Cards led by 8½ with 11 games to play. If they lose the NL Central this week, it will be the worst September collapse ever.

St. Louis fans hope they won’t be reading The New September Swoon and wondering what happened to their playoff hopes.

While they say momentum in baseball is only as good as your next starter, there seems to be something horribly wrong with the water in St. Louis. Houston and Cincinnati are rising fast and the Cardinals are in disarray.

We could be watching a meltdown for the history books.

Jeremy's column, "Bird's Eye View", appears alternate Tuesdays

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