Sizing up the Cardinals’ Post-Season Chances
Oh hey there. Been a while.
Welp, we’re quickly approaching that magical time of the year: October.
You really can’t beat fall in terms of sports. Post-season baseball. College football. Pro football (well, the players are professional, anyway; the officials…). Hockey (usually [:(]).
While it’s pretty unlikely we’ll ever see another post-season run like we did last year, the Cardinals have at least managed to put themselves in a better position to make the post-season this year than last year. Instead of facing a ten-game deficit, they find themselves being chased for the second and final Wild Card spot. With eight games to go for our boys, let’s break it down and see how close they are to clinching the spot, eh?
Pittsburgh Pirates – 7.5 games back
Pittsburgh has pretty much gone kaput in the second half. While it’s great for the Cardinals, I actually feel a little sorry for them. The Pirates were a terrific team in the 60’s and 70’s, and they look on their way to yet another losing season. With nine games to go, they have to go 6-3 to avoid their 20th consecutive losing season. Since August 8, they lost 30 of their last 43 games to fall to 75-78. In order to make the post-season, they would have to win every game the rest of the season, while the Cardinals would have to lose every game.
Arizona Diamondbacks – 5.5 games back
Arizona’s been, by all accounts, a pretty mediocre team all season. They’ve never been more than four games over .500, and they’ve never been more than six games under. Their home/road splits are pretty even (38-37 at home, 39-39 on the road). They have three games remaining at San Francisco, against whom they’re 8-7 this year, and then come home for the rest of the season, facing the Cubs (3-3) and the Rockies (9-6). Still, down 5.5 games, it’s a pretty tremendous hill to climb.
Philadelphia Phillies – 5.5 games back
Pretty much the same bottom line for the Phillies, who have actually had a pretty solid second half. On July 13, they were 14 games under .500 at 37-51; since then, they’ve gone 40-26. Still, it’s likely a case of too little, too late. They host Washington, against whom they’re 7-5 this season, then travel to Miami (8-7) and again face the Nationals in D.C.
This means, realistically, there are two teams in contention to hunt down the Cardinals.
Los Angeles Dodgers – 3.5 games back
The Dodgers pretty much went all-in on this season, making a myriad of trades they’d hoped would help push them past the Giants. Earlier this season, they appeared to be running away with the West, holding a 7.5 game lead in May, but they’ve faltered since then; since June 17, when they were 17 games over .500, they’ve been pretty mediocre, going 37-49 in that stretch.
They’ve tried to plug the gap with some significant trades, and some of the pieces have worked out decently: Hanley Ramirez (10 home runs, 42 RBI in 55 games), Adrian Gonzalez (.736 OPS, 18 RBI in 27 games), and Josh Beckett (3.45 ERA, 31.1 innings in 5 starts) have all performed decently for their new team. On the other hand, Joe Blanton (1-4, 5.57 ERA, 1.452 WHIP) has struggled, while Carl Crawford (Tommy John surgery) hasn’t played an inning for them this season and may miss the beginning of next season.
Their best player, Matt Kemp, came out of the games scorching hot, but two stints on the DL have undoubtedly slowed his play; since the beginning of August, he’s slashed just .238/.302/.360 with four bombs and 21 RBI in 44 games. They have nine games remaining, playing at San Diego (9-6) before hosting Colorado (7-8) and the Giants in the finale (6-9).
Milwaukee Brewers – 3.5 games back
The Brewers have been one of the hottest teams in the last month and likely represent the biggest threat to the Cardinals. On August 19, just over a month ago, they were 12 games under .500. After losing one of their biggest bats to free agency (Prince Fielder) and trading their ace (Zack Greinke), the Brewers were figured to be rebuilding for next season. Instead, they’ve gone on an absolute tear, winning 25 of their last 33 games.
Ryan Braun’s put up MVP-caliber numbers this year, even without the aid of synthetic testosterone. Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez have put up typical career numbers. Rickie Weeks, who started the season off atrociously (.190/.305/.333, 9 HR, 33 RBI through July 24), has bounced back in the two months since (.294/.376/.516, 11 HR, 28 RBI). They travel to Cincinnati (5-7) before hosting Houston (8-6) and San Diego (3-3).
That leaves the…
St. Louis Cardinals
The bad news? The Cardinals play their final six games against the two best teams in the National League: the Nationals (93-60) and the Reds (92-61).
The good news? The Cardinals play both of them at home, where the Cardinals have been excellent (46-29). Plus, the Cardinals still have two more games against the Astros, whom they’ve dominated this season (10-3).
Apart from one series in Cincinnati when they got swept, the Cardinals have actually played the Reds very well (6-3 otherwise, including 4-2 in Cincinnati). The Cardinals got dismantled in Washington, losing 3 out of 4.
Still, there are a few positive factors to keep in mind.
The Cardinals’ offense has shown signs of heating back up after a long relatively dormant period. Allen Craig (12 RBI in 9 games) has been the Cardinals’ most consistent offensive threat when he’s been in the lineup. Yadier Molina is an MVP candidate, even if most people don’t realize it. Carlos Beltran was mired in a long slump the second half, but his last ten games, he’s slashed .371/.450/.543. Pete Kozma has filled in well at shortstop in the absence of All-Star Rafael Furcal. While I’m not holding my breath in anticipation that he’s the shortstop of the future for the team, he’s done a terrific job down the stretch.
On the hill, the Cardinals’ starting pitching has stabilized after a rough stretch. Kyle Lohse, who’s been the team’s most consistent starter all year, has 16 wins to go with a 2.77 ERA and could easily have 20 if he’d been given a little more run support. Lance Lynn struggled for much of the second half, but he’s been exceptional in September (1.17 ERA in his last six outings, including three starts). Adam Wainwright’s been up and down much of the season, but he’s been a bulldog. All this without mentioning the return of Chris Carpenter, who provides an immediate morale boost with his demeanor.
Jason Motte leads the National League in saves (40) and has been exceptional the second half: 0.839 WHIP, 2.61 ERA, .184/.225/.342 slashline, and has struck out 12.77 batters every nine innings. Mitchell Boggs has firmly entrenched himself as the setup man, and his 2.34 ERA is the best on the staff. Edward Mujica has been phenomenal since the trade with Miami, posting a 1.13 ERA in 24 innings pitching primarily in the seventh inning. Since the end of June, Fernando Salas has put up an ERA of 2.84 to go with a .198/.270/.333 slashline. Even Marc Rzepczynski, who took a pretty solid beating from batters and Cardinals fans alike in the first half, has turned the page; since the end of June, he has an ERA of 1.96 with a slashline of .188/.278/.266. Walks remain an issue for him, but he’s made significant progress as the season’s gone on. Meanwhile, flame-throwing rookies Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller have done solid jobs in their limited debuts.
So what’s all this mean for the Cardinals? The bottom line is, their magic number stands at 6. The magic number is the total of wins by the Cardinals or losses by the Dodgers or Brewers for the Cardinals to clinch.
Confused by that? Say the Cardinals win four games the rest of the way. That’d reduce the magic number to two, BUT if the Dodgers and Brewers both lose two games, then they’d be eliminated from contention. If this played out, the standings would be:
Unless the Cardinals completely collapse and lose six or more of their final games, it’ll be a tough mountain to climb for the Brewers or Dodgers. Then again, looking at last year, it’s not entirely out of the picture. If the team can win every series the rest of the way, it’ll be a solid running start to the post-season, where they’ll face the Braves in a one-game playoff.