Finding reasons for ‘playing out the string’

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The Cardinals’ incredible hot streak reached 17 games and by the time anyone reads this we’ll know whether the squad’s postseason run was just one game or not.
The September consecutive games won in a row stretch surpassed St. Louis’ franchise record of 14 straight wins set in the 1930s and was tied with seven other win streaks which all occurred between 1885 and 1953, basically before modern history began, right?
The 17-gamer ended quietly Sept. 29 with a shutout to the division-winning Milwaukee Brewers. Following the conclusion of the consecutive games won, the Cardinals had four contests left to tune up prior to their winner-take-all National League Wild Card game Oct. 6.
The question I’m going to raise is this: if a team’s postseason fate is already sealed, do the remaining games matter? The simple fact is that there’s always an obscure team or individual stat that can be on the line.
One team record broken late last month was the most wins in September, with 22 as St. Louis defeated Milwaukee 4-3 Sept. 30 to finish the month at 22-7.
Other teams, playoff bound or not, had reason to keep winning as game no. 162 inched closer.
The San Francisco Giants (107-55) set a franchise record for wins, topping the mark of the 1904 New York Giants (106-47) by a single game. The Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56) tied their 2019 record for wins (106-56) while the Milwaukee Brewers (95-67) were just one win away from tying the team’s record for wins (96 in both 2011 and 2018). Milwaukee lost its final four games, but in three of those contests they were facing a team with plenty to play for — the Dodgers who were battling for the NL West division through Oct. 3.
Teams a long ways from the top of the standings are trying to finish the year strong, in hopes of carrying a bit of that positive play into 2022. The Toronto Blue Jays (91-71) and Seattle Mariners (90-72) both won at least 90 games. They won’t be a part of the 2021 postseason, but their fan bases can hope that this year was just the start of a successful run of winning campaigns.
There are also individual milestones players seek to achieve.
For example, the player batting a few points below .200 is seeking to get a couple of hits and boost the average just a bit.
Kansas City hasn’t had a winning record since early May when it was tied for first. However, in late September Salvador Perez surpassed Hall of Famer Johnny Bench with 48 homers, the most ever in a single-season by a catcher. Perez, who didn’t homer in the Royals’ final four games finished tied for Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. with 48 home runs in 2021. Starting or relief pitchers may have extra incentive to lower than earned run average or strike out more batters as the season winds down.
Now, back to the Cardinals.
A couple of things that are known...the Cardinals are guaranteed at least one game, and it will be against the Dodgers, who have never appeared in a wild card game. Also notable, longtime Cardinals’ broadcaster Mike Shannon has announced his final game in the radio booth (that came on Sunday) as he was given a sendoff Oct. 3 at Busch Stadium. Pitcher Adam Wainwright is set to return for a 17th season in 2022. NL Central teams are 1-3 in the Wild Card contests when not facing a team from their own division. The Cardinals won at Atlanta in the first version of the “win or go home” playoff round in 2012. Since then, the Pirates, Cubs and Brewers have lost contests in the Wild Card round. Home teams went 3-5 in wild card games from 2012-19.
Next time someone says not all the games matter, here’s a counterpoint: There is no such thing as meaningless late-season baseball.
Daniel Winningham is the managing editor of the Republic-Monitor. He may be reached by email at editor@perryvillenews.com or by phone at 573-547-4567.

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