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Cardinals’ Playoff Scenarios and Breakdown of Possibilities

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals’ place in the 2019 postseason comes down to 3 games against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium starting on Friday September 27th. To be entirely accurate, it comes down to 9 games, because if the Cards do not sweep the Cubs, the outcome of the the Brewers’ 3 games against the Rockies at Coors Field and the Nationals’ 3 games at home against the Indians will have an impact on the Cards’ picture.

Preliminary Considerations

The Cardinals and Nationals both have 90-69 records, and the Brewers’ record is 89-70. Between the three teams, there are 64 possible playoff scenarios, which I have worked out by hand. There are a couple of things that you should be aware of when considering these possibilities. First, if the Cards and Brewers are tied at the end of the regular season, they will be required to play a tie-breaker to determine the division winner on September 30th, which is the day after the regular season. This game is considered by the Major League Rules to be an extra regular season Game #163, and not a playoff game. All statistics accumulated in this game count for the regular season figures. The Cards would host Game #163 because they have the better head-to-head record against the Brewers (10-9). The winner of Game #163 would be declared the division winner, and the loser would be declared a Wild Card club. Second, although Game #163 is considered to be a regular season game, the outcome of that game is not a factor in determining regular season record for the purpose of deciding who hosts the Wild Card Game. Third, head-to-head record determines who hosts the Wild Card Game if the two wild card teams are tied. The Cardinals (5-2) and Brewers (4-2) both hold any tie-breaker over the Nationals in that regard by virtue of a better head-to-head record.

The Scenarios

The Cardinals win the National League Central Division in 40 out of the 64 scenarios. Out of these 40 scenarios, the Nationals host the Wild Card Game in 30 scenarios, and the Brewers host the Wild Card game in 10 scenarios.

The Brewers win the National League Central Division in 12 out of the 64 scenarios. Out of these 12 scenarios, the Nationals host the Wild Card Game in 8 scenarios and the Cards host the Wild Card Game in 4 scenarios.

The Cardinals and Brewers will be required to play a Game 163 tie-breaker at Busch Stadium on Monday, September 30th in 12 out of the 64 scenarios. These 12 scenarios are equally split between the Nationals hosting the loser of Game 163 in the Wild Card Game and the loser of Game 163 hosting the Nationals.

Further Breakdown

  • Because the Cards’ Magic Number to win the division is 3, if the Cards go 3-0, all 16 scenarios have the Cards winning the division.
  • If the Cards go 2-1, they still win the division in all but 4 scenarios, and each of the 4 would result in a Game 163 tie-breaker against the Brewers. All 4 scenarios would require the Brewers to sweep the Rockies. Of these 4 scenarios, the only one that would result in the Cards not hosting the Wild Card Game (assuming they lose the Game 163 tie-breaker) would require the Nationals to sweep the Indians and the Brewers to sweep the Rockies.
  • The Brewers can only win the division outright if the Cards go 1-2 or worse in the final 3 games. Even if the Cards go 1-2, they still win the division in 8 out of the 16 scenarios. The Brewers only win the division outright in 4 scenarios if the Cards go 1-2, and all 4 scenarios would require the Brewers to sweep the Rockies. A Game 163 tie-breaker will be required in 4 scenarios if the Cards go 1-2, and all 4 would require the Brewers to finish 2-1 over the final 3 games. If the Cards go 1-2 and are forced to play in the Wild Card Game, the Nationals would host the Wild Card game if they finish 2-1 or better, and the Cards would host the Wild Card game if the Nationals finish 1-2 or worse.
  • Of course, things look much worse if the Cards close the season at 0-3. They still win the division in 4 scenarios, but all 4 would require the Rockies to sweep the Brewers. The Brewers win the division outright in only 8 out of the 16 scenarios, all of which would require the Brewers to finish the season 2-1 or better. A Game 163 tie-breaker would be required in 4 scenarios, all of which would require the Brewers to finish 1-2. If the Cards go 0-3 and are forced to play in the Wild Card Game, they will play it on the road unless the Indians sweep the Nationals.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Although the phrase is overused, the Cards truly do “control their own destiny” because if they sweep the Cubs, it does not matter what any other team does. Although one might argue that the Cubs would play up a bit when facing the Cards, the Cubs just got swept by the reeling Pirates. They will not be playing Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant or Javier Baez. And they have announced that both Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks have been shut down for the season. The Cubs will be starting Alec Mills, Cole Hamels and a bullpen game against the Cards. Although the Rockies are out of playoff contention, Coors Field is not an easy place to play, and that club just gave the Cards all they could handle not too long ago. The Indians will be trying their hardest against the Nationals because they are barely still alive in the American League Wild Card race with an elimination number of 2.

When you combine the Cards’ desire to win the division, the Cards’ playing at home, the Cubs’ choices on playing time and the math, the Cards still stand a good chance of winning the division, getting 3 days of rest and setting their rotation for the NLDS against the Braves.