In baseball, they say “don’t look at the standings until after Memorial Day.” Then, for the next few months, the casual fan will glance at them maybe once or twice a week. After labor day, with playoff races heating up, it’s not uncommon to check the standings twice in a single day.
At the close of play on Monday, the Cardinals sit at 3 games above .500. They are 5 games back of the Cubs for the NL Central lead and just 3 games behind the Rockies for the second Wild Card spot. The Brewers sit only a game and a half behind Colorado and the Cardinals will need to chase them down as well.
So, what exactly needs to happen for the Cardinals to make the playoffs? Let’s start with some probabilities.
This is a nice graph with a lot of useless (read: outdated) information. As you can see, the Cardinals have a only a 4.6% chance to make the playoffs by winning the Central division—you don't need me to tell you that those aren't great odds. Interestingly, despite trailing the Brewers by a game and a half, the Cardinals have higher odds to win the division. That is due to strength of schedule. Before we get into schedule comparisons, let's look at overall playoff odds.
Again, there is a lot of outdated information here. What is important is the current number—the Cardinals go into their game tonight with at 22.9% chance of making the playoffs. In other words, if you played out the season 100 times, they would make the playoffs 23 times. Perhaps this is not ideal, but it is certainly a realistic scenario.
For a long time, many believed (myself included) that the only shot the Cardinals had at the playoffs was to win the division. With the Rockies falling back to Earth and the Cubs playing closer to their potential and talent level, the Wild Card now seems to be the only hope.
Arizona has all but clinched the first Wild Card spot behind the juggernaut Dodgers. It is very possible that the NL West gets 3 teams into the playoffs. But let’s take a look at Colorado’s remaining schedule. They have 4 more games against the pitiful Giants, 7 games against the awful Padres, 7 games against the Dodgers, 4 games against the Diamondbacks, and 3 against the Marlins.
If we estimate the Rockies win even just 13 of their remaining 25 games, the Cardinals would have to go 16-9 to tie Colorado. For a team that is 3 games above .500 over 5 months into the season, playing 7 games above .500 the rest of the way seems unlikely.
The remaining schedule for the Cardinals is as follows: 3 games against the Padres, 6 against the Pirates, 6 against the Reds, 7 against the Cubs, and the final 3 games of the season against Milwaukee. Even if the Cardinals were to win (but not sweep) each of the remaining series, they would only reach a mark of 15-10. Short of what would be needed if Colorado manages to be one game above .500 for the remainder of the season.
Those who say the Cardinals have a decent chance because of their remaining schedule should think again. The Rockies have a far easier schedule. And the Dodgers, who they face 7 more times, have lost 4 in a row and have won only once in their last 10 games.
Simply put, the Cardinals’s playoff chances don't seem to be as high (22.9%) as Fangraphs has concluded. The Rockies might play under .500 the rest of the way. Even if they do, the Cardinals will need to reach a number of games above .500 higher than they have all season. It is not impossible, but it will be very tough.