ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 9: Skip Schumaker #55 of the St. Louis Cardinals breaks up a double play against Jack Wilson #1 of the Atlanta Braves at Busch Stadium on September 9, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Braves 4-3 in 10 innings. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
On Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium the St. Louis Cardinals continued their stellar play of recent weeks by completing a sweep over the Wild Card leading Atlanta Braves with a 6-3 victory. The three-game series sweep has allowed the Cardinals to close a 7.5-game deficit in the Wild Card chase to just 4.5 games. And so it is that hope lives on.
The envisioning of a scenario a la 1964, where the Cards miraculously make the playoffs, feels a little more realistic with the Wild Card lead under five games. At this point, catching the Braves is a more realistic dream than catching the Brewers who sit comfortably ahead of St. Louis with a 6.0-game lead in the Central standings. So the stringing together of "if's" now centers on the Braves.
There's just one problem and it keeps even the most starry-eyed of dreamers grounded. We are in the dusk of the season. Sixteen games remain in the 2011 season for the St. Louis Cardinals. Sixteen, a total that's less than ten percent of the season. With so few games remaining on the schedule, there is only room for so many "if's."
With the Cardinals' playoff chances greater than they were a week ago--yet still quite small--I thought we could indulge our inner-dreamer today and take a look at the remaining opponents for the Braves and for the Cardinals.
Here is a series-by-series look at the Cardinals' remaining opponents with their respective winning percentages and run differentials:
Here is series-by-series look at what the Braves' remaining schedule looks like:
Both clubs' remaining schedules are similarly easy. Both play the Mets in a three-game series. Both play the bottom-dwellers of their respective divisions for three series: St. Louis plays the Pirates, Cubs, and Astros; Atlanta plays the Marlins twice and the Nationals. The only club with a winning record that either the Braves or the Cardinals play is the juggernaut that is the Philadelphia Phillies. But, Atlanta may gain an edge given where their series against Philly falls on the schedule. The Braves play the Phillies in the season's final series, which means that they may see easier pitching match-ups as Philadelphia positions itself for the NLDS whereas the Cardinals will face the Phillies at the end of this week and will likely face their normal pitching rotation.
Neither club has a demonstrably easier schedule remaining, a fact that favors the Braves due to their 4.5-game lead in the race. While the Cardinals have not yet joined the ever-growing list of clubs mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, their chances are slim. A near-perfect finish by the Cards would have to be assisted by a historic collapse from the Braves--"historic" due to how poor their remaining opponents are. Given this harsh reality, I think it's fair to say that the Cardinals making the playoffs is not impossible.