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The Cardinals and Royals didn't get a chance to play the final game of their season series on Sunday; the rain wouldn't let them. That's too bad for St. Louis, because almost any time they take the field this season, they win. At 41–21, they're off to their best start since 1944, and in one aspect, specifically, they're starting hotter than almost anyone ever has.

Here are the 20 teams in MLB history who have allowed the fewest runs over their first 62 games.

Runs Allowed, First 62 Team Games

Year

Team

Runs Allowed

1917

White Sox

151

1907

Cubs

158

1968

Indians

159

1968

Dodgers

163

1972

Orioles

165

1902

Pirates

165

1919

Cubs

166

1905

White Sox

166

1907

White Sox

167

1944

Cardinals

168

1968

Mets

168

1918

Cubs

169

1909

Giants

171

1918

Giants

171

1910

White Sox

172

1909

Cubs

175

1909

A's

176

1972

A's

176

1968

Tigers

177

2015

Cardinals

179

No team in the DH era has allowed so few runs this deep into a season. In 1972, a strike stole the first two weeks of the season, and although in general I'm agnostic about how that would affect the run environment, it's easy to see that it left the pitchers feeling a bit ahead of the hitters that spring. In 1968, four teams allowed fewer runs than the Cardinals have in their first 62 games, but we all know what 1968 was. Then there were the 1944 Cardinals, dominant force in one of the worst leagues in MLB history, an NL without any black players or most of its young players, thanks to World War II. Remove those three seasons, and this year's Cards are doing something we haven't seen since the Dead Ball Era. The only other teams to allow fewer than 200 runs in their first 62 games in the Wild Card Era were last year's A's and the 2010 Padres, and in each case, it was only narrowly.

Here are five best pitching staffs of the Prospectus Database Era (1953 onward), ranked by DRA- (described here):

DRA-, Teams, 1953–2014

Team, Year

DRA-

Tigers, 2013

83

Indians, 1956

84

Yankees, 1981

84

Braves, 1998

84

Braves, 1997

85

I showed you that to tell you this: Right now, the Cardinals have an 81 DRA-. Now, they're not among the 250 best teams of the same era by cFIP. They're not even the top team in their own division, by that stat; the Cubs have a 91 cFIP, to their 95. Still, we're talking about a team the numbers say is on track to be the best ever at preventing runs. (That's even literally true. They're on pace to allow 468 runs, which would break the record for fewest allowed in a 162-game season.)

How is St. Louis doing this? Huh. Ha. Hey, you know what? I don't know.

Which isn't to say it's surprising that they're good, or that their performance is fluky and unsustainable, or anything. It's just that this historic level of success doesn't match up with their talent or their performance.

St. Louis has the seventh-highest strikeout rate in baseball. They have the eighth-lowest walk rate. Only the Pirates have allowed fewer home runs per batter, and only the Pirates have allowed a lower line-drive rate on balls in play. I thought perhaps the Cardinals were, in some way, mimicking their NL Central rivals, who have found such success over the past two-plus years in terms of run prevention, but not really. Pittsburgh still shifts a lot; the Cardinals still don't. The Pirates still have a bunch of guys throwing a bunch of two-seam fastballs, relying on that pitch more than almost anyone else in baseball. The Cardinals rely, more than ever and more than almost any other team, on four-seam heaters.

I mentioned that St. Louis isn't shifting a lot, which probably made you wonder whether their defense has been excellent or exceptional in some more general way. Nope. They're 15th in Defensive Efficiency, and 10th in the park-adjusted version of same. It probably doesn't shock you that the Cardinals, with Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, Matt Holliday in left field, and (wide lens) an average position-player age just north of the median is unspectacular afield. In case you thought that was how they were doing this, though, it isn't.

Now, they're slowing opposing baserunners better than any other team in the league. Yadier Molina has the lowest (best) Swipe Rate Above Average of any catcher. The team has allowed only 16 steals on 25 attempts, each easily the lowest number in baseball. Opponents have also taken fewer bases on the Cardinals (the extra base on a hit, moving up on a sac fly or a groundout, wild pitches, passed balls, etc.) than on any other team. This isn't a huge thing, but Defensive Efficiency doesn't capture damage-control skills like those, so it's worth mentioning.

Here's where things get Cardinals-y. You know why this team is so outrageously stingy, why they're allowing fully four tenths of a run fewer per game than any other right now? It's because of their performance with runners in scoring position. Because of course it is. The 2013 Cardinals, as you'll well remember, utterly broke the system. They hit .330 with runners in scoring position; no other team has ever hit better than .311 in that situation. A dozen or more times that season, someone or other declared what the team was doing unsustainable, but they made it to within two wins of a World Series title.

This year, the Cardinals' RISP magic is coming on the mound. They're allowing a .547 OPS with runners in scoring position, which would be the lowest figure ever. The second lowest was posted by the 1981 Astros, at .568, but that was another strike year. The next belonged to the 1968 Tigers, at .578. The lowest of the DH Era was the 1974 Dodgers, at .598. The lowest of the Wild Card Era was the 2012 Nationals, at .616. In other words, if this proves sustainable, the Cardinals' current hurlers are as radically, unbelievably good in clutch situations as their 2013 hitters were, and that's mind-boggling.

So, should we trust this? Hell, I don't know. I can show you this:

Cardinals Pitchers, OPS Allowed w/ RISP, 2015

Pitcher

PA w/ RISP

OPS

Jordan Walden

20

.100

Adam Wainwright

28

.302

Carlos Villanueva

20

.371

Kevin Siegrist

27

.374

Carlos Martinez

61

.377

Trevor Rosenthal

29

.395

Michael Wacha

69

.478

Matt Belisle

34

.480

Seth Maness

30

.660

Tyler Lyons

26

.691

Lance Lynn

78

.710

John Lackey

80

.760

This shows every Cardinal who has faced at least 20 batters with runners in scoring position this year, and it seems to suggest that the more batters one faces, the greater the pull of regression. That's not surprising. It also shows that the two best guys at shutting down opponents with RISP are Jordan Walden and Adam Wainwright, both shelved by injuries. The numbers are eye-popping, but right after they pop, your eyes probably feel the urge to roll. This looks like a thing that can't last.

On the other hand, these are the Cardinals. I don't think we can totally dismiss the idea that this organization, which has seemed to train its players better on the mental and psychological elements of the game than anyone else for a decade or so, has found a way to encourage unusual success in these spots. Nothing can guarantee such success, of course, especially for a pitching staff missing its ace, not missing bats at an elite level, and pitching in front of a good (but not great) defense. The safe bet, the null hypothesis, is that this won't last. I'm just not sure the safe bet will pay off here.

Thank you for reading

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roarke
6/15
RE: Jhonny Peralta - I thought I read somewhere that his defense rates surprisingly high (I can't seem to find it at the moment, though). I always assumed that he was dreadful at short, but wasn't he towards the top of the list of best defensive SS in the NL last season?
matrueblood
6/15
I think a scout would call him "solid-average." He tends to post positive fielding stats, but not significantly positive ones. He's average, with a little upside from there, depending on the numbers you trust.
therealn0d
6/15
"Which isn't to say it's surprising that they're good, or that their performance is fluky and unsustainable, or anything. It's just that this historic level of success doesn't match up with their talent or their performance."

Doesn't that make it sort of fluky and unsustainable?
boatman44
6/15
What percentage of their success is due to going *in house*
rather than getting in a big name. Liverpool fan asking, for a good reason , is it really better to have someone who knows the system come in, or a big name manager ?
DrDaley
6/16
When I first saw the article was about the Cards and had the title "The old devil magic finds new forms" I thought, wow, BP is faster than the NY Times in getting the computer hacking story.