The day is here. The time has come. With but a single win, either tonight or tomorrow, the Cardinals clinch the NL Central. Now, you may know that the magic number is 3 and be wondering how exactly that could be true. Well it’s simple. If the Cardinals win one of the next two games, the best the Brewers could do would tie for first with the Cardinals. With the new playoff format, if two teams are tied, they no longer play each other to determine the division. Instead, the tiebreaker is head-to-head record. Since the Cardinals lead the season series 9 games to 8, a win would guarantee they would win the season series and thus they’d get the tiebreaker, guaranteeing the NL Central division.
It’s not going to be easy. The Brewers are coming off a four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds, which they won 3 out of 4. They are 11-6 in their last 17 games since they lost the series to the Rockies at Coors (which the Cardinals can sympathize with). That is slightly misleading of their quality of play since three of those losses came against the New York teams, the Mets and Yankees. A fourth was to the Cardinals. So they’ve been playing relatively well as of late.
The Brewers have been running with a very defined lineup as late. Their #1-6 hitters appear to be Christian Yelich (at LF), Willy Adames (at SS), Rowdy Tellez (at 1B), Hunter Renfroe (RF), Kolten Wong (at 2B), and then Andrew McCutchen (at DH). They switched it up against a lefty on Sunday, but that will probably be the lineup tonight. Their bottom three is more in doubt. Catcher is either Omar Narvaez or Victor Caratini. The listed centerfielder on Roster Resource is Garrett Mitchell, but with a 41.2 K%, it seems like Tyrone Taylor is getting more starts. Third base flips between Luis Urias and Jace Peterson, but Urias seems to be more of the starter right now.
We’re well aware of their bullpen at this point. Devin Williams is their closer and hasn’t pitched since Friday. The non-9th inning important innings have gone to either Matt Bush (with a 34% K rate as a Brewer) or Brad Boxberger. Three Brewers have gotten holds in the past week and a notable Brewer missing is Taylor Rogers, with a 6.30 ERA as a Brewer. The two mentioned and Peter Strzelecki have been the three. Aside from them, Aaron Ashby has returned from the injured list, but he threw 40 pitches on Sunday and has 4 walks to 2 strikeouts in his two appearances since returning, so he might be trusted. Rounding out the bullpen is Trevor Gott, still without a strikeout since returning from the IL (9 batters but still), Holby Milner, and Brent Suter, who is just always going to be a Brewer I guess.
Onto the pitching matchups
Tuesday - 6:40 PM
Miles Mikolas (3.35 ERA/3.92 FIP/3.85 xFIP) vs. Adrian Houser (4.62 ERA/4.19 FIP/4.57 xFIP)
This is theoretically the game the Cardinals should win, almost need to win. The Cardinals have the better pitcher, and they’re facing a dominant top of the rotation starter in game two. But well, the Cardinals seem to have an infuriating problem with Houser. Houser, in 10 starts and 13 appearances against the Cardinals, has a 2.89 ERA. He has one shutout in his career: it was against the Cardinals. And the crazy thing is that his numbers would be better except for his last time facing the Cardinals, he allowed 5 earned runs in 4 innings against the Cards. Hopefully, that broke whatever magic pixie dust he seemed to have in the past.
The last time Mikolas faced the Brewers, meanwhile, he threw 8 innings of 2 run ball. He will be making his fifth start against the Brewers this year in fact. In three of the four starts, he has pitched at least 6 innings, and allowed two runs or less. In the fourth, he got roughed up, getting tagged for 6 runs. 75% chance he’s good, because yeah that’s how that works. We’ll go with that.
My pick: Cardinals
Wednesday - 6:40 PM
Jose Quintana (3.03 ERA/3.02 FIP/3.72 xFIP) vs. Brandon Woodruff (3.18 ERA/3.19 FIP/3.23 xFIP)
I’m not sure I’ve seen a pitcher with about as neutral “luck” as possible. No luck on homers. No bad luck either. Strikeouts and walks suggest he has the right ERA. I mean those are about as close as numbers as you can get. Weirdly satisfying. Woodruff is, uh, feeling it right now. Going to be a tough one. He has 32 strikeouts in his last three starts. Just four walks. At least 10 strikeouts in each start.
Quintana has sort of pitched his way back in the playoff rotation, at least if you asked me. Despite the stat “has allowed two earned runs or less in every start as a Cardinal,” he seemed to go through a stretch where he wasn’t particularly good (he had a four start stretch where he struck out 7 and walked 8). But his last four starts have been as good as you can hope for: impossible to leave off the playoff rotation good. Let’s hope it continues.
My pick: Brewers
Sorry, got to go with the obvious picks here, even though the alternative wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. Last preview, something happened that I have been expecting for a while. I got the series correct, but I got 4 of the 5 games incorrect. Honestly surprised that hasn’t been more common with my picks.
My Individual Record: 39-33
Series Prediction: 9-13
I don’t know if this is creepy or what, but I had the song “Only a Fool Would Say That” in my head, so while writing this, I went to Steely Dan’s Spotify page and clicked play and had it on shuffle. And what do you know the first song it played was “Only a Fool.” They made a lot of songs! Seems like crazy odds. Anyway, freaked me out.