Today is an off-day. This of course means our beloved Redbirds are not playing today. Normally, off-days are frustrating and annoying. However, today is one of those rare occasions when everyone needs a break--fans and players alike.
July 22 was the Cardinals' last day off. It seems like ages ago. On that day, St. Louis boasted a 59-37 record. At 22 games over .500, their .619 winning percentage was the best in all of baseball. They led the National League Central by 1.5 games over Pittsburgh. Life was good.
When folks talk about the "grind" of the MLB regular season, they are talking about stretches like the one the Cardinals just wrapped up. In the summer's dog days, the schedule threw down a gauntlet that was made all the more trying by an early-season rain postponement. The Cardinals played 22 games in 21 days. The stretch was as brutal to watch as it undoubtedly was to play.
For the first time since 2011, the Cards lost seven games in a row. The club managed to do this in just six days thanks to a doubleheader in Pittsburgh. The losing streak was made all the worse by the loss of Yadier Molina to the disabled list.
The remainder of the brutal stretch didn't get much better, even though the Cards took a three-game series from the Reds in Cincy. After returning home, they dropped three of four to the historically hot Dodgers and two of three to the historical laughing stock Cubs.
The Redbirds finished their stretch of 22 games in 21 days with an 8-13 record. Yes, it's fair to say that a day away from baseball is what everyone needed. That being said, the Cardinals' worst stretch of the season has not snuffed out their division hopes. Thanks to Selig's overflowing postseason format, the club's postseason outlook is quite bright.
Sitting here today, the Cards are 67-50. They are presently closer to the Reds (+2.0 games) in the Wild Card standings than the Pirates (-3.0 games) in the division race. According to the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report (yes, it's officially that time of the year), the Cards had a 95.7% chance of making that Wild Card play-in game before defeating Chicago on Sunday. The Baseball Prospectus simulations have the Cardinals catching and surpassing Pittsburgh for the division crown just 24% of the time.
All of this can and will fluctuate. The shifts will likely be dramatic for the Cardinals and Pirates will be seeing a lot of each other down the stretch. After this much-needed day of rest, the Cardinals face the Pirates at Busch Stadium in a three-game series. After this week, the clubs will face off in six more games this season. El Birdos need to catch their collective breath today because the home stretch of this year's pennant race has the makings of being a dramatic one.