The Cardinals came into this week with control of their own fate. They were up 1.5 games in the lead for the 2nd wild card with a particularly good week putting even the NL Central on the table. That is no longer possible. The Brewers swept the Cardinals in decisive fashion to put both the division and homefield advantage in the wild card game off the table. The best case scenario is now the Cardinals making the 2nd wild card as a road team. Worst case, they don’t make the playoffs.
However, the playoffs are still on the table. It’s not going to be easy. I’m sure after witnessing that series against the Brewers, it’s not something you even want to entertain because you don’t want to get your hopes up for the possibility because it feels like such a remote chance. ESPN standings lists the Cardinals chances for the playoffs as 19.6%. Almost 1 in 5. In the equivalent of five scenarios, the Cardinals make the playoffs just once.
Here’s the thing though. The Dodgers have decided to throw the Cardinals a bone. The Dodgers have also decided, probably not voluntarily, to collapse. They lost two of three from the Arizona Diamondbacks, which thanks guys. I mean you could have just done that to the Colorado Rockies. That would have been easier. Nonetheless, there are now two teams who could theoretically lose games to help the Cardinals make up ground.
The Cardinals will not be in a terrible spot if the Rockies lose tomorrow. Yes, yes I know what you’re going to say. It’s not going to happen. The Rockies will never lose again. I get it. Jake Arietta is pitching in Coors Field for the Phillies. I’m going to rip any semblance of hope you have left that the Phillies will win. Arietta has started two games at Coors Field. He has allowed 14 earned runs in 8.2 IP. I think Antonio Senzatela can beat that.
But let’s say the impossible happens. And let’s be honest. It’s not really impossible. Baseball, fortunately, doesn’t work that way. The Baltimore Orioles have managed to win 46 games and they weren’t all against the Royals or White Sox. Hell, they managed three wins against the Red Sox and seven against the Yankees. To be clear, 3-16 in a season series is impressively awful, but they still won games. I doubt there was a single game that favored the Orioles on paper too. So the Rockies can lose tomorrow. I don’t expect it, but they can lose. If they lose, the Cardinals are in an interesting, but difficult spot.
If the Rockies lose tomorrow, both the Dodgers and Rockies will be 1 game ahead of the Cardinals in the wild card standings. The Cardinals only need to surpass one of them. There are four possible outcomes for the series against the Chicago Cubs this weekend. The first is that the Cubs sweep the Cardinals. I’m going to surprise you and say that getting swept is not going to get the Cardinals in the playoffs.
Winning one out of three won’t either... probably. The Cardinals can, theoretically, participate in a play-in game for the right to play in the Wild Card game if either the Dodgers or Rockies get swept. If the Rockies win tomorrow and the Cardinals only win one game against the Cubs, it does not matter if the Rockies get swept. So basically if the Cardinals only win one game against the Cubs, they are likely relying on the Dodgers to get swept. By the Giants. That would be a collapse for the ages by the Dodgers and I wouldn’t be opposed. But let’s be safe and win more than one game.
The third possible scenario is the Cardinals win two out of three against the Cubs. Okay now we’re getting into slightly more plausible playoff scenarios. I cannot stress enough how big it will feel if the Rockies actually lose tomorrow, because I really don’t think the odds are terrible that one of the Dodgers or Rockies could lose two of three. I also don’t think it’s a stretch to think the Cardinals can win two of three against the Cubs. However, if we are completely relying on the Giants to win two of three against the Dodgers, that feels like a lost cause. We’ve also, you know, been there before.
The final scenario is the Cardinals sweep the Cubs. First off, let’s do that anyway. There’s a very good chance sweeping the Cubs means the Brewers are NL Central champions. That means there’s a roughly 50/50 chance the Cubs get knocked out in the Wild Card game. Just imagine that the Cubs lose the wild card game after not being able to win a single game against the Cards in the final series. This, to me, is the next best thing if you’re not making the playoffs. Obviously, I’d rather the Cardinals knock the Cubs out in a one-game playoff, but Cards kind of screwed themselves and don’t have control over that.
I hesitate to say this, because I would not at all be shocked by this scenario, but if the Rockies lose tomorrow, and the Cardinals sweep the Cubs, going by how baseball usually works, it would be a rather massive upset if the Cardinals didn’t at least get to play in a play-in-game to play in the play-in-game. Man I really, really want the Rockies to lose tomorrow. Can you please, for one game, get your shit together Phillies? Just one more game!
So in this scenario, the Dodgers or Rockies simply need to only win two of three and the Cardinals get to play them. Unless both of them do it, and then I believe they play each other. The loser faces the Cardinals, and the winner of that game faces, presumably, the Cubs. This would seem to benefit the Cardinals more than it hurts them (and really, really benefits the Cubs unfortunately). If both teams only win one of three, the Cardinals make the Wild Card game without needing a play-in-game. Confused yet?
So, what is the lesson here? The lesson is that the Rockies need to lose tomorrow and the Cardinals need to sweep the Cubs. A collapse from the Dodgers or Rockies would give the Cardinals a little but more margin for error, but not a lot. Looking at it here, on Thursday, a sweep of the Cubs would probably give the Cardinals a chance at the play-in-game and at worst, likely makes the Cubs have to play in the Wild Card game. So lose tomorrow Rockies, and sweep the Cubs. Sound easy enough?