The almighty examples of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays — all but canonized as the Patron Saints of September Comebacks — have been invoked by several Dodgers players already this season. Until or unless the Dodgers are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, expect to hear more and more about the Cardinals and Rays as the 2012 season draws to a close.
Last year the Cardinals, 10 games behind the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 25, won the National League wild-card berth on the final day of the season. The Rays, nine games behind the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 3, grabbed their wild-card berth less than a half-hour after the Cardinals.
The Dodgers would like to pull off a minor miracle of their own, but how do they compare to Tampa Bay and St. Louis through the 141-game mark? Let the comparisons begin …
Through 141 games:
The Dodgers, at 74-67, are 5 games behind the San Francisco Giants in the National League West race (1 games in the wild card).
The 2011 Cardinals were 74-67 and trailed the Braves by 8 games.
The 2011 Rays were 77-64 and 8 games behind Boston.
The Dodgers are 5-9 since Aug. 26. The Giants are 9-4 in that same span.
The Cardinals won 22 of their final 30 games to overcome their deficit; the Braves won 9 of their final 27 games.
The Rays won 17 of their final 26 games; the Red Sox won 6 of their final 24 games.
Remaining strengths of schedule (all records through 141 games):
Cumulative winning percentage of Dodgers’ opponents: .524. Cumulative winning percentages of Giants’ opponents: .464.
2011 Cardinals: .529. 2011 Braves: .524
2011 Rays: .557. 2011 Red Sox: .499
Dodgers Nick Punto (Cardinals) and Adrian Gonzalez (Red Sox) were both first-hand witnesses to last year’s madness, as were Giants Marco Scutaro (Red Sox) and Ryan Theriot (Cardinals).
The strength-of-schedule comparison presents the most interesting set of stats, since so much has been made of the Giants’ relatively easy schedule compared to the Dodgers.
The Giants benefit from finishing the season exclusively with games against the weak NL West. This was the case for the Red Sox in 2011, who had only one series against the Yankees and should have benefited from playing a couple series each against Toronto and Baltimore — the San Diego and Colorado, respectively, of last year’s AL East.
What makes the Rays’ comeback so remarkable in hindsight is that they had two series against the first-place Yankees, and one against the eventual AL champion Texas Rangers, crammed into their final 21 games –and still managed to knock off the Red Sox. The Cardinals had a tougher schedule than the Braves, too, albeit by a very small margin.
The lesson probably isn’t that strength of schedule doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter as much as we’d like to think. When you’re hot, you’re hot.
The Dodgers are not, but last year teaches us that there’s still time.