With 17th Straight Win, the Cardinals Are in Elite Company

It turns out that if a team is on the outside looking in, winning a string of games in a row is a solid strategy to come back in. The St. Louis Cardinals clinched a playoff position on Tuesday night with their 17th straight victory.

After the Sept. 10 games, the Cardinals had a 71-69 record, 15 games behind the Brewers in the National League Central and in fourth place among wild-card candidates, three and a half games out of second place. They were 88-69 through Tuesday, still six games behind the high-flying Milwaukee Brewers but securely qualified for the playoffs.

The Cards were one game ahead of a certain New York team in the standings at the start of the run. They are now 13 games ahead of them. Mets fans, I’m sorry.

The Cardinals will be a stern challenge in the wild-card game, even though they will be underdogs to either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the San Francisco Giants, with an offensive attack that includes three 30-homer players (Nolan Arenado, Tyler O’Neill, and Paul Goldschmidt) and a pitching staff that includes a 40-year-old starter, Adam Wainwright, who has 17 wins and a 3.05 E.R.A. (depending on which team wins the N.L. West).

In baseball, significant victory streaks are not uncommon: Since 1900, around 400 teams have won at least ten consecutive games, for example. (We’re not knocking the St. Louis Maroons or the Providence Grays, but we’re keeping with the modern age.)

However, as the streaks become longer, they become considerably more unusual. The Cardinals are only the 14th club since 1900 to win 17 consecutive games, and the record streak is only 26 games. Is it 21 or 22?

If the Cardinals continue to win, starting with Wednesday night’s game against the Brewers, they might join some very remarkable company.

Two New York teams have 18 victories. The 1904 Giants won 106 games but refused to participate in the newfangled “World Series,” which had been reintroduced the previous season as a championship between the National and American Leagues. The 1953 Yankees had no such reservations: after easily winning the pennant behind Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, they defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series.

Two more World Series-winning teams had 19 wins: Joe DiMaggio’s 1947 Yankees and the White Sox of 1906, who defeated the Yankees (then known as the Highlanders) to win the pennant. Surprisingly, none of the longer streaks belong to World Series champions.

The 2002 Oakland Athletics have a winning run of 20 games, which was memorialised in the film “Moneyball.” Chris Pratt, er, Scott Hatteberg, hit a pinch-hit home run to win Game 20.

The 1935 Chicago Cubs have 21 victories. The streak began in September, when the club was two and a half games out of first place. The Cubs rode the streak to a four-game lead in the final standings, but they lost the World Series to the Tigers and had to wait until 2016 to win it all again.

Cleveland leads the league with 22 victories in 2017. With 102 wins, the squad was the best in the American League until they were upset in the playoffs by the Yankees. The streak outnumbers any from the nineteenth century, making it the record. Unless, of course, you count…

The 1916 New York Giants had a mind-boggling 26-game winning streak, and it was an odd streak for various reasons. The squad started the season 2-13 and appeared to be in for a bad year. But then the team discovered some strange, if momentary, baseball magic.

The team won 17 straight games before starting to stink again. The team’s record dropped from 19-13 at the end of the streak to 59-62 in September. Then, unexpectedly, the magic reappeared. The Giants proceeded on another tear, this time a record-breaking one, winning 26 games in a row. When they finally lost, the headline in the New York Times read, “Braves End Flare of Giants’ Meteor.” The final score was 86-66, and the team finished fourth.

So, why is there any doubt that this 26-game streak is truly a record? There is an unattractive scar in the centre of all those Ws: a T. Ties were typical in the early twentieth century, when games were completed before sunset, and the Giants’ 1-1 tie against Pittsburgh in the second game of a doubleheader ended the streak considerably.

Ties are omitted in the computation of win streaks in the Elias Sports Bureau’s official record book, which acknowledges the 26-game streak as the record. If you’re a stickler (or a Cleveland fan), you might credit the 1916 Giants with a 12-game winning streak and a 14-game winning streak sandwiched around a tie.