Despite Recent Struggles, Cardinals Well-Positioned for Wild Card Run

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 9: Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals slides safely past Jonathan Lucroy #20 of the Milwaukee Brewers to score the game winning run on a single by Allen Craig #21 in the 10th inning at Busch Stadium on September 9, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals won 5-4. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

It has been a frustrating couple of weeks in Cardinaldom. The club started its ten-game road trip by winning a series in Cincinnati before losing the following series in Pittsburgh 2-1 and dropping three of four against the Nationals in Washington. Some home cooking and the Mets proved just what the Cardinals needed, as they won two of three at Busch. Then the Brewers came to town and beat the Cards in two of three, with St. Louis winning the final game of the series on a walkoff single from Allen Craig in extra innings.

On Twitter and in the comments section of VEB, I've seen some harsh statements about the team. Some have questioned the club's desire, others the players' effort, some have called it an implosion, and still others have described the season as "slipping away." Given the doom and gloom, I was surprised to look at the National League Wild Card standings and see this:

Club

Wins

Losses

Winning %

Games Back

Homefield GB

Braves

81

60

.574

--

--

Cardinals

75

65

.536

--

5.5

Dodgers

74

67*

.525*

1.5

6.5

Pirates

72

67

.518

2.5

8.0

Brewers

69

71

.493

6.0

11.5


*In the original version of this post, I forgot to update the Dodgers' loss total and winning percentage after last night's loss to the Giants. They have now been updated to accurately reflect the club's record through play on Sunday.

I blinked a few times and then rubbed my eyes. But the standings didn't change. The Cardinals were in sole possession of the second Wild Card play-in berth. I hit refresh on my browser, but MLB.com still showed St. Louis as the second Wild Card team if the season ended today. Albeit by a single game, but still in the postseason hunt.

The current standings made me curious to see how much the club's recent 7-9 stretch had hurt their postseason aspirations. On MLB.com, one is able to look at historical standings, so I went back to August 23, 2012, the last game before the Cardinals' ten-game road trip, to see what the standings looked like. They looked like this:

Club

Wins

Losses

Winning %

Games Back

Homefield GB

Braves

71

54

.568

--

--

Cardinals

68

56

.546

--

2.5

Pirates

67

57

.540

1.0

3.5

Dodgers

67

58

.536

1.5

4.0

Diamondbacks

64

61

.512

4.5

7.0

The Cardinals have played some bad baseball these last few weeks. So have the Dodgers and Pirates. Despite the Cardinals' uneven play, they lead the third-place Wild Card team by a half-game more than they did entering play on September 24. The Redibrds also lead the fourth-place Wild Card team by 2 1/2 games instead of just 1 1/2. The Cards have slightly larger leads in the standings today than they did at the beginning of their ten-game road trip.

There was no implosion. The Cardinals' season hasn't slipped away. Rather, they have squandered an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and their prime Wild Card competition. Had the Cardinals not treaded water these last few weeks, they could have surged to a comfortable lead in the Wild Card standings. As things stand, they are still in a neck-and-neck postseason race.

Despite their Wild Card chances remaining strong, the Cards have seen their chances of hosting the Wild Card play-in take a major hit. While the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates have floundered, the Braves have cemented their position as the home team in the Wild Card. The Braves have gone 10-6 since August 23 and expanded what was a 2 1/2 game lead over the second-place Cardinals to a 5 1/2 game lead. It looks like the Braves may play in Atlanta for not only for their first postseason game, but, due to the scheduling crunch, potentially for their first three postseason games.

This isn't to say that the Cardinals aren't staggering a bit. Lance Berkman's season may be over. Carlos Beltran is dealing with knee and hand issues. Yadier Molina may still be dealing with the lingering effects of the collision in Pittsburgh. David Freese has an injured ankle. Rafael Furcal has a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. The group is banged up and it has shown. Jake Westbrook has an oblique injury and will miss his next start. About the only good health news the club has received is the potential return of Chris Carpenter.

Even with these health woes, the Cardinals have a favorable schedule that features three games against the Padres, six games against the Astros and three against the Cubs. It also features a huge four-game series against the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine that could greatly impact the Wild Card hunt. The club also closes the season out with series against the league's top two clubs: the Reds and Nationals. It will be interesting to see how the postseason-bound clubs approach these final series.

Here is a look at the remaining schedules for the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates.

CARDINALS

OPPONENT

GAMES

Wins

Losses

Win Pct.

Run Diff.

@ Padres

3

69

72

.468

-48

@ Dodgers

4

74

67

.525

+18

Astros

3

44

96

.314

-202

@ Cubs

3

54

86

.386

-123

@ Astros

3

44

96

.314

-202

Nationals

3

86

54

.614

+126

Reds

3

84

57

.596

+79


DODGERS

OPPONENT

GAMES

Wins

Losses

Win Pct.

Run Diff.

@ D-Backs

2

69

72

.489

+25

Cardinals

4

75

67

.536

+94

@ Nationals

3

86

54

.614

+126

@ Reds

3

84

57

.596

+79

@ Padres

3

69

72

.489

-48

Rockies

3

56

82

.406

-93

Giants

3

78

61

.561

+43


PIRATES

OPPONENT

GAMES

Wins

Losses

Win Pct.

Run Diff.

@ Reds

3

84

57

.596

+79

@ Cubs

3

54

86

.386

-123

Brewers

3

69

71

.493

+25

@ Astros

3

44

96

.314

-202

@ Mets

4

65

75

.464

-40

Reds

3

84

57

.596

+79

Braves

3

81

60

.574

+90


A few weeks ago, we came up with a method of measuring the remaining strength of schedule whereby we multiply an opponent's run differential by the number of games against said opponent and then add the total for each opponent together. Using this method, the Cardinals have the easiest remaining schedule thanks to games against the Padres, Astros, and Cubs. Five of the Dodgers' remaining seven opponents have both a winning record and positive run differential. The Pirates face the Cubs and Astros in one series each and have a four-gamer against the Mets.

Team

Schedule Weight

Dodgers

747

Pirates

-316

Cardinals

-1,038


Despite a lackluster stretch from late August to early September, the Cardinals find themselves well-positioned to make an appearance in the Wild Card play-in game. The club's health woes will make their quest more difficult but a remaining schedule that features three games against San Diego and Chicago as well as six games against Houston will be beneficial. The four-game series in Los Angeles also gives the Cardinals a chance to control their own destiny. I don't really understand the doom and gloom being directed at the Cardinals and, as a fan, am looking forward to the season's home stretch.

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