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Long Walk Home

Great win yesterday. Wellemeyer was solid, if unspectacular, and the offense came out w/ both barrels against Zambrano. Now we get Carp on the mound w/ a chance to win the series – really couldn’t have asked for anything more. It’s amazing how our nerves can get on edge w/ our bullpen even w/ a 6 run lead though. Up 9-3, Villone still had me nervous b/c I think we could all envision that landslide. Even Tony could see the possibility and he got Springer, not Franklin or Izzy as one might expect (now) w/ a 6 run lead. Can’t take any chances these days.

The Cards definitely have a tough row to hoe from here on out if we want to advance. Of course, we’re still 6 back in a division race that’s looking, if not impossible, certainly less and less likely. These Cubs aren’t going to fall apart, folks. I could see them playing .500 the rest of the way, but even going 22-23 would force the Cards to go 27-16 (.628) just to tie. It’s not out of the question but we’re certainly not the favorite. Indeed, BP has our playoff odds right now at about 19% -- w/ just a 2.9% chance of winning the division.

While winning a division title is nice and it makes a great banner, we all know too well that it’s not imperative if you want to have success in the postseason. If the goal is to win the World Series which, at this point, it should be, winning the Wild Card gives you almost as good a chance as winning the division. Sure, you’d like to have home field advantage but we won it all in 2006 w/o having 1 series w/ home field advantage. It’s not at all determinative.

So the Wild Card presents us w/ a real opportunity. Right now we sit in 2nd, 2 games behind the Brewers, a half game ahead of the Phillies and a game and half ahead of the Mets. Of course, one of the Phillies and Mets are likely to win the East so we’re definitely in the hunt. Unfortunately, of the 6 non-NL West playoff contenders, as even the D-backs would be in 5th place in the Wild Card hunt, the Cards have probably the toughest schedule from here on out. Here are the schedules of the 6 NL Central and East teams still in contention (sorry, Ed Wade!).

Cards Cubs Brewers Phils Mets Marlins
at Cubs -- 1 Cards -- 1 Nats -- 2 Pitt -- 1 Marlins -- 1 at Mets -- 1
at Marlins -- 4 at Braves -- 3 at Padres -- 3 at Dodgers -- 4 Pirates -- 1 Cards -- 4
at Reds -- 2 at Marlins -- 3 at Dodgers -- 3 at Padres -- 3 at Nats -- 3 Cubs -- 3
Pitt -- 2 Reds -- 3 Astros -- 3 Nats -- 3 at Pirates -- 4 at Giants -- 3
Braves -- 3 Nats -- 3 Pirates -- 3 Dodgers -- 4 Braves -- 3 at Dbacks -- 3
Brewers -- 2 at Pirates -- 3 at Cards -- 2 Mets -- 2 Astros -- 3 at Braves -- 3
at Astros -- 3 Phils -- 4 at Pirates -- 3 at Cubs -- 4 at Phils -- 2 Mets -- 3
at Dbacks -- 3 Astros -- 3 Mets -- 3 at Nats -- 3 at Marlins -- 3 Braves -- 3
Marlins -- 3 at Reds -- 3 Padres -- 4 at Mets -- 3 at Brewers -- 3 at Cards -- 3
Cubs -- 3 at Cards -- 3 Reds -- 3 Marlins -- 3 Phils -- 3 at Phils -- 3
at Pirates -- 3 at Astros -- 3 at Phils -- 4 Brewers -- 4 Nats -- 2 Nats -- 3
at Reds -- 3 Brewers -- 3 at Cubs -- 3 at Braves -- 3 Braves -- 3 Astros -- 3
at Cubs -- 3 Cards -- 3 at Reds -- 3 at Marlins -- 3 at Nats -- 4 Phils -- 3
Dbacks -- 4 at Mets -- 4 Pirates -- 3 Braves -- 3 at Braves -- 3 at Reds -- 1
Reds -- 3 at Brewers -- 3 Cubs -- 3 Nats -- 3 Cubs -- 4 at Nats -- 3
Marlins -- 3 at Mets -- 3
.503 .502 .481 .484 .474 .486
20/23 20/25 24/21 23/23 24/22 22/23

The 2nd row from the bottom is the opponent’s combined win percentage. You see the Cards’ opponents have a slightly better win percentage than the Cubs and the other 4 teams play considerably easier schedules than the Cards and Cubs. They get the advantage of being able to play multiple games, and often multiple series, against the feckless Nationals. A couple of them also get to play the Padres as well. Between now and the end of the year, the Brewers play only 5 series’ against teams w/ winning records and, unfortunately, only 1 of them is against the Cards. That series, only 2 games, becomes a huge one. Getting swept in that short, mid-week series coming up at the end of the month would put us behind the eight ball.

The bottom row is the number of home games/road games each team has to play through the end of the year – the only advantage we have over the Cubs. The Cubs, who have been very mediocre on the road (26-30) have 25 road games left to play vs. the Cards 23. The Brewers and Mets, the Cards’ closest competitors in the Wild Cards chase, both play more home games than road games down the stretch.

Is there a critical stretch for the Cards over the last month and half? They’re all critical, aren’t they? I would say that the 2 homestands offer the Cards distinct opportunities. The first includes the Pirates, the Braves, and the 2 game series w/ the Brewers. That 7 game homestand allows the Cards the opportunity to play 2 bad teams and defeat the team ahead of the Cards in the Wild Card hunt. Winning 5 of 7, or even 6, should be the expectation. We’ll need to take advantage of every opportunity.

We’ve got a 6 game homestand w/ the Marlins and Cubs – 2 good teams that, if the Cards aren’t careful, could really set the Cards back.. Winning 3 or 4 out of those 6 games has to be considered imperative. Finally, there’s a 9 game road trip to Pittsburgh, Cincy, and Chicago in mid-September where the Cards have to take advantage of their ability to win on the road and the fact that they’re playing 6 games against relatively weak teams and win 5 or 6. If we don’t play well in any of these stretches, the final 7 game homestand against the Dbacks and Reds may be irrelevant. If we’re close in the last week, you’d have to like our chances w/ the Brewers playing the Cubs and the Mets playing the Marlins. The tough part will be staying within a game or so by the time that Dback series begins.

We’ll get to listen to Joe Morgan tonight on ESPN. Prime time, Cards/Cubs, Carp/Dempster at Wrigley. It’ll make for great theater and a series win would be really nice. I’ll get a game thread up later and will probably set up 2 or 3 overflow threads. There’s gonna be a lot to discuss.