Hey Cardinals, win the next two, play .500 and take your chances…

Tony LaRussa often talks about the importance of getting to and staying at 20 games or more above .500. With a record of 72-54, the Cardinals have a chance to reach that plateau this week against Houston, and there’s a good reason the Redbirds’ skipper believes in it’s importance.

Since LaRussa became the Cardinal manager in 1996, there are only three seasons out of thirteen that 91-71 would not have won the division. The 1999 Reds won 96 games and finished second, behind Houston, the ’01 Cardinals and Astros tied for the division lead with 93 wins, and the ’04 Astros finished 92-70…not nearly enough to surpass the 105 win Redbirds.

Looking at other Cardinal division titles in LaRussa’s reign, in ’96 they won the division with 88 wins, but Houston won only 82. In 2000, the Cardinals won 95, but second place Cincinnati won just 85. The ’02 Astros finished 84-78, thirteen games off the Cardinals 97 win total. When the Cardinals won 100 in 2005, Houston went just 89-73. Of course the ’06 World Champion Cardinals won just 83 regular season games.

So the moral of the story is…get to 20 over and take your chances. This year, 91-71 might constitute a blowout in the NL Central.