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MLB: Why the Cardinals Should Want the Astros to Remain in the NL Central

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MLB: Why the Cardinals Should Want the Astros to Remain in the NL Central
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Starting in 2013, the Houston Astros are moving from the NL Central to the AL West, as part of MLB’s new realignment plan. Now, the question is, how will the new-look NL Central affect the Cardinals going forward? 

The two main issues to consider center on the romantic and the systematic.  After analyzing both, it is easy to see that the Cardinals will undoubtedly suffer when the Astros move to the American League. 

The Cardinals success over the last ten years has certainly been built on many solid foundational pieces.  You can start with great management, both on the field and in the front office. 

The starting pitching has always been impressive in the never-ending series of reclamation projects Dave Duncan and Tony LaRussa seemed to churn out with relative ease.  And most importantly, don’t overlook the 11-year reign of Albert Pujols.  But through it all, we would be negligent to forget the many great on-the-field moments brought to us by those Astros. 

The Cardinals' dominance of the NL over the last ten years has been buoyed mostly by the memories (fond and cruel) of those battles with Houston. 

Think of the seven-game thriller against the Astros in the 2004 NLCS.  Jim Edmonds’ extra innings bomb in Game 6 to tie the series, and his full-extension dive and catch in Game 7, helped lift the Cardinals to their first World Series appearance in a generation. 

The Astros leaving the NL Central is________ for the Cardinals?

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In 2005, the Cardinals and Astros battled again for the NL Championship.  How could anyone forget Pujols’ home run in Game 5 against Brad Lidge

You know, the one that hushed an Astros crowd to a whisper, sparked the immediate demise of one of the game’s most feared closers, and helped to save Busch Stadium from demolition (for one night) and allow the St. Louis faithful to say goodbye on their terms. 

In 2006, when an 83-win Cardinals team proved all the experts wrong by beating the top two teams in the NL before taking down the heavily favored Detroit Tigers for the championship, it was the Astros who nearly overtook the Cards in the regular season’s final week for the Central Division crown.  You cannot write about the Cardinals’ success over the last decade without giving the Astros their due. 

The great memories made with Houston are plentiful, and with their impending move to the AL, who can fill that void?  The Brewers and Reds appear to be one-season wonders when they choose to compete, and the Pirates and Cubs certainly offer nothing more than pity and remorse when staring at their disasters.

Moving to the left-side of the debater’s brain, the Cardinals fan should be careful what they wish for, because booting the Astros out of the NL Central means the competition is going to be that much tougher for a team who will have an otherwise razor-thin margin when it comes to finding future success. 

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

For all the drama the Astros have provided for the Cardinals in the playoffs, the team has since become quite the punching bag when you look at their production both on the mound and in the batter’s box. 

Take a look at this chart to see how the Astros have ranked recently in some of the NL’s most telling statistical categories: (ERA+ refers to a pitcher’s ERA independent of their team’s ballpark; Adjusted Pitching Wins (APW) calculates a starter’s value in wins)

 

             2011        

           2010

           2009

           2008

           2007

Runs

13th

15th

14th

8th

13th

HRs

15th

16th

12th

8th

10th

RBIs

14th

15th

13th

10th

11th

OPS

13th

16th

12th

10th

11th

BBs

16th

16th

15th

16th

5th

ERA+

16th

11th

12th

12th

11th

Ks

8th

8th

10th

10th

7th

APW

16th

13th

12th

12th

11th

OPS Allowed

16th

12th

13th

12th

12th

The numbers speak for themselves.  For the last five seasons, the Astros have been one of the worst NL teams in terms of getting on base (and keeping the other team off), hitting for power, driving in runs, striking out the opposing hitter, and getting wins from your starting staff. 

Replacing the 18 or so games against Houston each season with an obviously better opponent, means the Cardinals will score less runs, allow more runs, and ultimately lose more games.  No more repeats of the late-season heroics of 2006 and 2011, because the Cardinals simply won’t have the chance to. 

The Astros really have provided the best of both worlds for the Cardinals over the last ten years.  Call me sentimental when I say the rivalry is indispensable, but the numbers say it louder.  Losing the Astros means the Cardinals’ road to a Central Division title just got a lot tougher.

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