St. Louis Cardinals Hold Slim National League Wild Card Lead With Three Games Remaining

Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

An array of possibilities face the Cardinals, who lead the race for the National League's second Wild Card berth by two games with three to play.

The home stretch of the National League Wild Card race has taken shape just as Commissioner Bud Selig had hoped. Over the last week, the herd of would-be Wild Card clubs thinned. First, the fading Pirates succumbed to their inevitable elimination. Then it was the Phillies and Diamondbacks who saw their elimination number met. With the Cardinals' blowout win over the Nationals at Busch Stadium on Sunday, the Brewers had their World Series hopes snuffed out for the second straight season by St. Louis.

With just three games left on the 162-game schedule, the Cardinals lead the Dodgers by a mere two games.

The Cardinals are in the proverbial catbird seat. Their magic number is two, which makes them masters of their own fate. St. Louis need not rely on a Dodgers loss to make the Wild Card. If they win two or three of their remaining three games, the Cards are going to Atlanta to face the Braves in the Wild Card game.

As you know, a magic number takes into account the chaser's potential losses, meaning that L.A. can help punch the Redbirds' postseason ticket. If the Cards fail to win at least two of their final three games, they'll need at least one Dodgers loss to win the second Wild Card berth. Below are two charts laying out the possible outcomes in the event the Cardinals lose two or three of their final three games.

Potential STL Record

Potential LAD Record

Potential Outcome

0-3

3-0

Dodgers Win 2nd Wild Card

0-3

2-1

Game 163 Tiebreaker

0-3

1-2

Cardinals Win 2nd Wild Card

0-3

0-3

Cardinals Win 2nd Wild Card

Potential STL Record

Potential LAD Record

Potential Outcome

1-2

3-0

Game 163 Tiebreaker

1-2

2-1

Cardinals Win 2nd Wild Card

1-2

1-2

Cardinals Win 2nd Wild Card

1-2

0-3

Cardinals Win 2nd Wild Card


If the Cardinals and Dodgers finish tied for the second NL Wild Card berth, the MLB rules dictate that a tiebreaker game will be played. The tiebreaker will be played in Los Angeles, since the Dodgers won the season series 6-5. This means that the Cardinals would play the Reds in St. Louis on Wednesday, fly to L.A. for a game on Thursday, and then--according the postseason schedule in its current form--fly from L.A. to Atlanta for a game on Friday. It would be an unprecedented travel burden for a postseason team and one that would violate the collective bargaining agreement.

ESPN's Jayson Stark wrote a must-read column in early September on this potential outcome. Stark quotes an anonymous source familiar with the postseason scheduling issues as saying the Cardinals would not be required to embark on such a brutal travel and game schedule under any circumstances.

The agreement between MLB and the players, according to sources familiar with it, promises that if a team has to play games on back-to-back days in different cities, there will be at least 27 hours between games -- and, ideally, more than that.

So what does that mean?

It means that if there's a tiebreaker game on that Thursday on the West Coast, that game might have to start at 10 or 11 p.m., Eastern time. Sorry.

How would MLB finagle the schedule to adhere to the agreement with the MLBPA? Stark reports that MLB could move the potential Wild Card teams' games to Wednesday afternoon or push the NL Wild Card game back from Friday to Saturday.Stark explains why such a move would create a scheduling mess:

That's because the NL Division Series involving that wild-card team is supposed to start Sunday. And the winner of the wild-card game gets to host Games 1 and 2. In other words, the Nationals or Reds would find themselves sitting around Saturday, watching that wild-card game, not even sure where they'd be playing the next day.

As you can see, the next three games have the potential to cause MLB some real scheduling headaches. All the more reason for the Cardinals to wrap up the second Wild Card berth with a series win over the Reds. Here's a look at the probable starting pitcher match-ups in the next three games.

GAME 1

Pitcher

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/FB

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Garcia

115.0

7.20

2.27

7.4%

69.0%

53.1%

3.99

3.05

3.46

Arroyo

197.0

5.62

1.55

10.4%

76.8%

41.1%

3.70

4.10

4.25


GAME 2

Pitcher

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/FB

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Carpenter

11.0

4.09

0.82

7.1%

75.5%

36.1%

3.27

4.20

4.88

Latos

204.1

7.97

2.77

12.1%

75.4%

45.4%

3.52

3.91

3.80


GAME 3

Pitcher

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/FB

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

TBA

Bailey

204.0

7.15

2.29

11.8%

73.1%

44.8%

3.75

4.06

3.99


Wednesday's game offers the most intrigue, as it would be Adam Wainwright's normal day to start in the rotation, as it is presently configured. Perhaps taking a page out of La Russa's book (if not an incredibly long subtitle), Mike Matheny has not yet named Wednesday's starter. Obviously, if Game No. 162 is a must-win contest, as it was last season, Wainwright will get the start, leaving the play-in game to Kyle Lohse. However, if the Cardinals have clinched the second Wild Card spot before Wednesday's game, Matheny could opt to start Joe Kelly or Shelby Miller instead of Wainwright, which would push the wagonmaker's next start back to the play-in game in Atlanta.

Below are the probable pitcher match-ups for the Dodgers vs. Giants series.

GAME 1

Pitcher

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/FB

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Harang

173.2

6.63

4.30

6.5%

72.3%

38.7%

3.68

4.18

4.95

Cain

214.1

8.02

2.10

8.1%

78.9%

36.6%

2.77

3.36

3.84


GAME 2

Pitcher

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/FB

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Capuano

195.1

7.46

2.49

10.5%

72.5%

40.4%

3.69

3.84

3.95

Zito

178.1

5.45

3.48

8.9%

72.9%

40.4%

4.19

4.58

4.97


GAME 3

Pitcher

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/FB

LOB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

Kershaw

219.2

9.05

2.46

8.4%

77.8%

46.8%

2.58

2.93

3.25

Vogelsong

184.2

7.36

2.97

8.4%

76.1%

43.6%

3.46

3.79

4.20


The final three games promise to be compelling. The second Wild Card berth could be sewn up after the games on Monday night. It also might not be settled after the final games on the schedule. Both the Cardinals and Dodgers are facing a division rival that has already secured a division title. The final series offer many intriguing pitching match-ups as well. At this point, all we can do is enjoy the last twists and turns of what has been a roller coaster of a season.

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