It’s here. Finally.
What is it that’s here, you ask?
Baseball that matters. And I don’t mean matters as in matters. All games matter from Opening Day through that random July series against the Blue Jays. They all count in the standings, win or don’t win.
No, I mean “matters” matters. This series against the Brewers matters.
I’m writing this on Friday morning, so update what I’m saying according to the team’s performance in tonight’s contest, but entering this series, the Cards were 61-50, 11 games over .500, and a .5 game up on the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Cardinals got here by going 8-2 over their last 10 games. They were really on a roll after the trade deadline before hitting the juggernaut that is the Colorado Rockies, but, hey, that’s baseball. The Cardinals’ pitching staff, built to succeed in St. Louis, was destined to fall apart at altitude.
No harm, no foul if they take care of business at home against the Hader-less Brewers, who have translated their re-vamped bullpen into a 4-6 record in their last 10.
The Cardinals score more runs than the Brewers on average. They allow fewer runs than the Brewers on average. They should have a 3.5-game lead in the division by expected win/loss. And they are very good (35-20) at home.
Everything is in the Cardinals’ favor this weekend!
The games still have to be played, though. That’s why this series matters. If the Cardinals can extend their division lead to 1.5 games, or better yet, 3.5 games with a sweep, they will put themselves in a strong position to hold out until the end.
Let’s take some time this Saturday morning to look through the upcoming schedule, do a bit of projecting month-by-month, and figure out the Cardinals’ path to the division crown.
Cardinals’ Remaining Schedule in August: Milwaukee (3), Colorado (3), @Arizona (3), @Chicago Cubs (5, including a doubleheader), Atlanta (3), @Cincinnati (3).
For the rest of August (including the current Brewers series), the Cards play 9 games at home and 11 on the road, including a 5-game series in Chicago against the always-feisty Cubs. Despite more road than home games, the Brewers and Braves are the only team above .500 in the group. The Diamondbacks, like Colorado, are significantly better at home than on the road and the Cards do have to go to the desert.
Still, it’s hard to describe that lineup of opponents as anything but favorable to the Cardinals. They have only 6 games out of 20 games against teams that are better than terrible.
Brewers Remaining Schedule in August: @St. Louis (3), Los Angeles Dodgers (4), @Chicago Cubs (3), @Los Angeles Dodgers (3), Chicago Cubs (3), Pittsburgh (3)
Hehehehehe… oh, you’ve gotta love it. 7 games against the Dodgers! The Dodgers, if you’ve been living under a rock, have the best record in baseball at 77-33. That’s a .700 win percentage. The Brewers will have to feel fortunate if they get 2 wins out of that series. They also have the Cards series, and then more NL Central mush. The Cubs and Pirates account for almost half their games.
That’s 10 games out of 19 against teams with winning records and all 10 are against teams leading their division.
You can see why this series matters. If the Cards can do their job by adding to their lead over this weekend the rest of the schedule might just take care of everything else for them.
We can imagine it playing out this way:
Cards win the Brewers series 2-1, heading to Colorado with a 1.5 game lead. Cardinals win each of the following series, including 3 of 5 against the Cubs, but falter against the Braves. That puts them at 12-8 for the rest of the month or 73-58 on the season.
The Brewers go 2-5 against the Dodgers and win their remaining series 8-4. That’s a 10-9 record between now and September first, or 70-59.
That’s probably a best-case scenario for both teams, but it does expand the Cardinals’ lead to 2 games in just over half a month. The standings on September 1 pivot on the Cards’ performance this weekend and how well (or poorly) the Brewers contend with the Dodgers.
Forward we go.
Cardinals’ Remaining Schedule in September/October: Chicago Cubs (3), Washington (4), @Pittsburgh (3), Milwaukee (2), Cincinnati (5 – including a doubleheader), @San Diego (3), @Los Angels Dodgers (3), @Milwaukee (2), Pittsburgh (3), @Pittsburgh (3).
The lock-out forces the schedule to extend into October a bit and at first glance, it seems like a real mixed bag for the Cardinals. What’s notable is that stretch in late September where the Cardinals face MIL and then hit the road for SD, LA, and MIL. That’s tough. To say the least.
The rest of the schedule, though? A cakewalk. They have 21 games against teams at the bottom of the league. 9 of those 21 are against the Pirates. So, yes, running the gauntlet through the West Cost contenders and Milwaukee will extract its pint of blood, but the team should be able to make it up the rest of the way.
Brewers’ Remaining Schedule in September/October: @Arizona (4), @Colorado (3), SF (2 – one-day doubleheader, no off days on either side), Cincinnati (3), @St. Louis (2), New York Yankees (3), New York Mets (3), @Cincinnati (4), St. Louis (2), Miami (4), Arizona (3).
Let me just do that again: Hehehehehe… oh, you’ve gotta love it! While the Cardinals are running their west coast gauntlet, the Brewers have their trial by fire. They get the Mets and Yankees for 6 straight. The Mets have 73 wins right now and are dominating the NL East. The Yankees are 71-41, 10 games up in the AL East.
The notable difference is that the Brewers get their brutal stretch at home and the Cards have to go on the road.
Still, the Cardinals remaining September/October schedule is a bit easier. The Brewers have to go to Arizona and Colorado and face two bad teams who play above their record at home. And they have that very odd one-day doubleheader against the Giants, who are under .500 but not a pushover.
Then it’s also-rans, just like the Cards.
Just looking through these final month schedules and doing a little mental comparison, I would probably call them a wash. I think the Brewers’ schedule is just a bit harder overall by opponent but the home/road splits of those opponents seem to favor the Brewers.
Thankfully we have something a little more scientific than my eyeball analysis. There’s a website called “Tankathon” that calculates the strength of a team’s remaining schedule by opponent and ranks them in a handy little chart. Here’s how they evaluate the Brewers and the Cardinals for the rest of the season:
While their schedules looked relatively similar to my eye, mathematically there’s a notable gap. The Brewers have the 11th hardest remaining schedule, built largely on 20 games against the Dodgers, Mets, Yankees, and Cardinals. Their opponents have a combined .507 winning percentage.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, have been hanging out at the bottom of the league in remaining schedule strength since before the All-Star break. Their opponents have a combined .459 winning percentage through the rest of the season.
That just further reinforces my point. This weekend matters. It’s the best chance that the Cardinals have to build a lead against the Brewers head-to-head. The schedule gives them the chance to hold or expand that lead, assuming they take care of their own business.
This is still going to be a tight division race. I don’t see either team running away with things in the final third of the season. But if any team was going to, it would probably be the Cardinals, with their shiny new rotation and an offense that should get everyone going at the same time at least once this season, right?
Seriously, I don’t think they have had a run where Goldy, Carlson, Arenado, and O’Neill were all hitting the ball. Seems like the best they can do is 2 of those at a time. Carlson and O’Neill in particular are due for a stretch where things click for them.
The Cardinals’ path to a division crown starts this weekend. And they have the month of August to build on their lead before things start to even out. This series matters. I’ll be watching. I know you will be, too.
Happy Saturday, Viva El Birdos. Enjoy meaningful baseball in August!