The playoffs are almost upon us. The Cardinals have two weeks left. By the time you read this, they will have 16 games remaining.
As of this moment – my present moment in your past moment – the Cardinals are IN THE PLAYOFFS.
That’s right. They have a commanding half-game lead over a Padres team that is heading into town for a three-game winner-take-all deathmatch.
Ok, so that last part isn’t true.
I wish it was. The Cardinals have played their best baseball in months over the last few weeks and they need that to continue with a slew of tough matchups to come.
Before we dig into the remaining schedule, let’s look at the playoff odds – our favorite thing to do in this article series!
In the three visits to this subject, the club’s playoff chances had barely budged. I think they had a low of 2% (+/-) and high of 5%, rounded up. The problem the Cardinals faced was a Brewers team playing like an elite contender and a very strong NL West.
Earlier in the summer, it appeared that all three western contenders would spend the summer jockeying for playoff position while shutting the also-rans in the Central and East out of the Selig Game.
If I’ve learned anything covering baseball it’s that what we know in June and July rarely actually happens in September and October. The Padres have fallen off. The Cardinals have steadily climbed up out of persistent mediocrity. And so the playoff odds have shifted.
Today – Friday – the Cardinals have a 0.0% chance of winning their division. They haven’t been mathematically eliminated. But it’s close.
They have a 35.8% chance of making the playoffs.
Thirty. Five. Point. Eight.
That’s at least 7 times higher than the last time we chatted.
Incidentally, the Cardinals have a .6% chance of winning the World Series!
(Insert “so you’re saying there’s a chance” gif here.)
The Cardinals, at 36%, have a slight edge over the Padres (31.9%) but a notable double-digit lead over the Reds (24.2%) and Phillies (22.4%). So, while 36% is still just better than a 1 in 3 chance, it’s the best odds the Cardinals are going to get considering how tight the standings remain. It’s also the highest odds that the club has seen since May.
Here’s how Fangraphs has charted the NL Central this season:
It’s hard to tell the difference between the Reds and the Cardinals on that chart – red and red – but the Redbirds’ playoff odds peaked around 50% in mid-May. It was pretty much all downhill until August. Then, the Cards started playing a bit better while the rest of the NL Wild Card contenders started doing the opposite.
That’s the key to the change in the playoff odds. This chart tells the story:
Record since August 1:
In my previous two articles, I argued that the Cardinals needed to play as well as possible while hoping that the other teams in the race fell back to them. You can never count on other teams – let alone 3 of them – to all struggle. The Cardinals haven’t played out of their mind. They have played about as well as anyone could reasonably expect.
Call it good fortune. Or devil magic. Or sheer dumb luck. But just when they needed it and right when it matters the most, the Cardinals are hot. Their main competitors are struggling.
And the team most equipped to push past them – the Padres – are the worst of the lot. Here we are, two weeks from the end of the season, and the scuffling Fathers are in town and currently losing in a 1-hitter to Miles Mikolas – who looks all the way back tonight.
Baseball is the best.
The Cardinals, for the first time this season, control their own destiny. They are in a position to put some distance between themselves and at least one contender this weekend.
What about the rest of the schedule?
It has ups and downs. This is a short three-game homestand. Then it’s back on the road for a four game …
Oh, yeah baby, Carlson just crushed one! 4-0 Cards! #livewriting
… excuse me… a four-game set against the Brewers.
Since we’ve looked at records since August 1, the Beer Makers are 27-14 over that period. Outside of a brief downturn in May, the Brewers have pretty much been excellent all season long.
We can’t expect that to change. So, while winning 3 of 4 would be ideal, we should expect nothing more than a split.
After leaving Milwaukee, it’s off to Chicago for four, including a double-header, with the tail-spinning Cubs. The Baby Bears were 7-20 in August. Gotta love that. In September, they’ve been better, going 8-6. During that span, they’ve been outscored 85-73. Don’t let the decent record this month fool you. The Cubs are still bad.
Then the Cards head home for, basically, a replay of what I just wrote, with one fewer game each series. The Brewers come to town for three. Then the Cubs are in town for three to end the season.
This series is “Charting a Path to the Playoffs”. So, let’s do that!
Don’t want to count my unhatched bipedal poultries, but let’s go ahead and mark this Friday contest down as a win. (Yup, you can blame me if this goes south.)
The Cards should take the series 2-1, leaving them with a 78-70 record.
If the Cards go 4-3 in the seven remaining against the Brewers and 5-2 in the seven remaining against the Cubs, they should make the playoffs.
At game 162, the Cards would end with 87 wins. 75 losses.
That’s reasonable. It could happen. It probably should happen.
Still, it seems crazy, considering all the ridiculous issues that this team has had this season, that they have a chance to better most of their pre-season predictions. A few projection systems even had them at or below .500. It’s easy to see how that could have happened now.
It’s also getting increasingly difficult to believe that the Cardinals will finish below 81 wins any time soon.
I mean, if this team didn’t do it while setting walk records, losing half its rotation, starting with half a rotation that was pretty terrible, and, at times, having the most frustrating offense I’ve had the displeasure to watch, when will they?
Right now, despite a rotation that is still sketchy at best, this feels like a playoff team. Not a good playoff team. But a second Wild Card team.
And with Wainwright likely to be up for the Cards in a one-game deathmatch, even against the vaunted Dodgers, you have to like their chances of seeing the Divisional Round.
Maybe I’m too optimistic.
Considering the frustration we Cards fans have endured this season, optimism is exactly the way we should feel.
Baseball is supposed to be fun.
This kind of baseball is fun.
Because a rough offseason of labor battles are ahead of us and we have no idea what that will do to the Cards budget or approach to player acquisition this winter.
And now the bases are loaded with Garcia on the mound… Better go back and edit that “mark this one down as a win” statement before I have to eat it.
Win or lose tonight, have a happy Saturday.