After a few rough patches, the St. Louis Cardinals have emerged from the first two weeks of the season as a veritable contender for the National League Central Division title. 16 games into the young season, the Cardinals are 8-8, one game behind the Cincinnati Reds for first place.
Despite being within a game of the divisional lead, it's often hard to take such small sample sizes seriously. After all, that's under one-tenth of the season.
It comes as a surprise, then, that Baseball Prospectus gives St. Louis a 55.3 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 49.2 percent chance of winning the division.
Baseball Prospectus runs a Monte Carlo simulation, playing through the rest of the season a million times based on projected winning percentages. With each game the team plays, their projection changes.
The Cardinals' chances at the Central crown have changed dramatically over the last week. Before their series with the Diamondbacks, the Cardinals were 3-6. Baseball Prospectus gave them a 40.9 percent chance at October baseball, just barely ahead of Cincinnati.
Now, after emerging as an offensive powerhouse en route to winning series in Phoenix and Los Angeles, St. Louis has driven their chances up by 14.4 percent in the span of a week—the most by any major league team over that time.
Who will win the NL Central in 2011?
All of this adds up to a projected .530 winning percentage for the Redbirds in 2011. That translates to an 88-win division championship season. St. Louis has a chance to improve those odds later tonight when they take on the Washington Nationals (projected .440 winning percentage) for a three-game series.
St. Louis has better chances than all but five teams to make the postseason, and better chances than any team in the AL Central. Their 88 projected wins are better than all NL teams except Philadelphia and San Francisco, last year's NLCS opponents.
All of this points to a bright outlook for Redbirds fans in 2011.