What Needs To Happen (And What Might Happen) In The Final Three Weeks
The Cardinals keep trying to give away their wild card spot, but, so far, there haven’t been any takers. Over the last ten days, the Cardinals went 4-6 in truly dispiriting fashion. However, their primary opponents in the race for the wild card did poorly as well – Los Angeles also went 4-6, while Pittsburgh went 3-7. Doesn’t anybody want to win this thing??
The incompetence of the top three teams in the wild card race has also created an opening for Milwaukee (7-3) and Philadelphia (8-2), both lurking just six games back.
The Cardinals have just a tad over three weeks left in the regular season, covering six teams and 22 games. What dangers lie ahead in the schedule? And what do they need to do to overcome their obstacles and reach the postseason?
The easy answer is “WIN.” Of course, the 2012 Cardinals are better at teasing prosperity than actually delivering it. At this late point in the schedule, the Cardinals are still lumbering along with a winning percentage of .536, ten games above the .500 mark at 75-65.
However, that winning percentage is misleading, given that the Cardinals had an incredible April before plunging into an abyss of injuries and zombie-stares. In their last 30 games, the Cardinals are a mediocre 15-15, which is, of course, a .500 winning percentage. Meanwhile, look at what their competition has been doing over that same month:
- Nationals 19-11 (.633)
- Giants 19-11 (.633)
- Phillies 19-11 (.633)
- Reds 18-12 (.600)
- Brewers 18-12 (.600)
- Braves 17-13 (.567)
- Dodgers 14-16 (.467)
- Pirates 10-20 (.333)
If everyone maintains their current pace (not their seasonal pace), here is what the wild card looks like at the end of the season:
- (E) Nationals 100-62 (.617)
- (C) Reds 97-65 (.599)
- (W) Giants 93-69 (.574)
- Braves 93-69
- Cardinals 86-76
- Dodgers 84-78
- Phillies 83-79
- Brewers 82-80
- Pittsburgh 80-82
Look at how knotted that final wild card spot gets! Just four games separating three teams! It could go in many different directions with one extra losing streak by anyone!
Upon examination, the upcoming schedules of the wild card contenders are equally drawn. Out of seven remaining series, the Cardinals have three against winning teams, while the Dodgers have four, the Phillies have three, and the Brewers have four.
There are only two head-to-head confrontations among the five teams (assuming Atlanta takes the first spot) hoping for that final wild card spot: on Thursday, the Cardinals and Dodgers begin a crucial four-game series, and afterwards the Brewers take on Pittsburgh.
The next seven games will be the most important for the Cardinals’ chances. Before facing the Dodgers on Thursday, the Cardinals need to survive a three-game series against the Padres, one of the hotter teams of the second-half (a winning percentage of .604 since the All-Star break). Winning two of three there would be huge.
Given the uncertainty of the pitching staff for the Dodgers’ series, the Cardinals should really hope for a split in that series. That means the Cardinals must take at least two of three at San Diego. For the week, they need to win at least four games. More would be excellent, of course.
After that, the Cardinals enjoy a nine-game cushion against the two worst teams in the National League; six against the Astros, and three against thee Cubs. They need to win at least five of these games. During this time, the Cardinals’ main opponents will be bogged down with tough, winning teams. The Cardinals would be wise to dial it up and gain some ground if possible in this stretch.
To end the season, the Cardinals will be facing the division-leading Nationals and Reds, who will undoubtedly have already clinched and will be on semi-shutdown in preparation for the playoffs. If the Cardinals need to make a move at this late point in the season, they might be able to win a few here. Much depends on how much the Nats and the Reds want to help eliminate the Cardinals from competition.
All in all, the Cardinals look like they have a pretty good chance to make that final wild-card berth despite their continued ball-dropping. Unless something catastrophic happens (like being swept by the Dodgers, or losing the majority of that nine-game stretch), the Cardinals should be in a decent position.
It just should’ve been so much better than this, ya know?