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St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates: How will the NL Central play out?

With a handful of games to go, anything still might happen in the National League Central.

Dilip Vishwanat

The St. Louis Cardinals, who held a two-game lead in the National League Central division entering play last night, lost to the Chicago Cubs thanks yet again to offensive ineptitude squandering a solid starting pitcher performance. But the tally the Cards added to the loss column did not subtract from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ game(s)-back total. For the Buccos lost to the Braves, which means that the Cardinals still sit atop the division by 1 1/2 games on this St. Louis off-day. Better yet, the Cardinals saw their magic (and the Pirates’ elimination) number go down by one thanks to the Pittsburgh loss. It currently sits at three.

For Cardinals fans, the days to come will doubtlessly involve a lot of scoreboard watching (if not game watching outright) of the Pirates’ final games against the Braves and Reds. The Cardinals have a mere three games left to go. For their part in this Central photo finish, the Pirates have four. The scene is set.

While reading, keep in mind that the running magic/elimination number tally is key. Both teams could play meaningless games on Sunday if things break a certain way. Any combination of three Cardinals wins or Pirates losses seals a second straight division crown for St. Louis. Nonetheless, I’m going to try and lay out the various eventual scenarios for your consideration.

Pirates Win the Division Outright

  • The Cardinals go 0-3 vs. Arizona and the Pirates go 3-1 or 4-0.
  • The Cards finish 1-2 and Pittsburgh goes 4-0 vs. Cincinnati.

Cardinals Win the Division Outright

  • The Cardinals go 3-0 (and it doesn’t matter how Pittsburgh finishes because they're eliminated).
  • The Cardinals finish 2-1 and the Pirates go either 3-1, 2-2, 1-3, or 0-4.
  • The Cardinals conclude 1-2 and the Pirates finish either 2-2, 1-3, or 0-4.
  • The Cardinals wrap things up by losing all three against the Diamondbacks and the Pirates go either 1-3 or 0-4.
  • In point of fact, it doesn’t matter what the Cards do if the Pirates finish either 1-3 or 0-4.

Cardinals and Pirates Tie

  • The Cards finish 0-3 and the Pirates go 2-2.
  • The Cardinals go 1-2 and the Pirates finish 3-1.
  • The Cardinals conclude 2-1 and the Pirates go 4-0.

Any of these three scenarios will result in a Central division tiebreaker at Busch Stadium because the Cardinals bested the Pirates in the teams’ head-to-head season series.

Correction: As helpfully pointed out in the comments, the original version of this post left out one of the scenarios in which the Pirates might win the Central division title outright. The post has been corrected so that it contains this potential outcome. It also incorrectly stated the Cardinals led the division by two games.