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How badly must the St. Louis Cardinals play down the stretch for the Pittsburgh Pirates to catch them?

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Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The first-place St. Louis Cardinals lost to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night. The Pittsburgh PIrates, who are in second place, lost in Milwaukee. As a result, the National League Central division race hasn't changed too terribly much from before play began on Wednesday and when it ended. The Pirates missed an opportunity to gain ground on the Cardinals, and so St. Louis owns a six-game lead in the division.

The Chicago Cubs are the team with the NL's third-highest winning percentage and they sit 10.5 game behind the Cardinals. While it's possible that something crazy might happen (after all, this is baseball), there's little chance (0.4% entering play on September 3, according to Fangraphs) that the Cubs will catch the Cards. Consequently, the Cubs aren't included in this post's exercise.

The Cardinals have an off-day today. Tonight, the Pirates hope to end their two-game skid and avoid a sweep at the hands of the Brewers. On Friday, St. Louis and PIttsburgh square off in the first of three weekend games at Busch Stadium. Today's post serves as a scene-setter for that series and the rest of the season.

As of September 3, the Cards have outplayed the PIrates this year—both in terms of quality and quantity. The Cardinals' .647 winning percentage is the best in baseball and tops the Pirates' .607 by a fair margin. El Birdos have also played more of their 162 games than the Buccos: 133 to 131. Pittsburgh could gain or lose a full game in the standings yet this season on St. Louis off-days.

After Wednesday night's games, the 10,000 Fangraphs simulations of the remainder of the season give the Cardinals 91.7% odds of winning the Central to the Pirates' 7.9%. In other words: It's possible for the Pirates to catch and surpass the Cardinals in the Central standings, but highly unlikely. The Cardinals have banked a lot of wins to date and have a healthy lead. Today I thought we might take a look at what that means. I put together a chart that shows the Cardinals' possible records over their remaining 29 games and how many games the Pirates will have to win out of their remaining 31 to St. Louis in the division standings. I've highlighted in dark green the rest-of-season record for each team, based on the Fangraphs projections and then highlighted next to them the lines that encompass what the other club must do to finish ahead, behind, or tie in the standings.


W

L

W%

Final W

Final L

Final W%

W

L

W%

Final W

Final L

Final W%

29

0

1.000

115

47

.710







28

1

.966

114

48

.704







27

2

.931

113

49

.698







26

3

.897

112

50

.691







25

4

.862

111

51

.685







24

5

.828

110

52

.679

31

0

1.000

110

52

.679

23

6

.793

109

53

.673

30

1

.968

109

53

.673

22

7

.759

108

54

.667

29

2

.935

108

54

.667

21

8

.724

107

55

.660

28

3

.903

107

55

.660

20

9

.690

106

56

.654

27

4

.871

106

56

.654

19

10

.655

105

57

.648

26

5

.839

105

57

.648

18

11

.621

104

58

.642

25

6

.806

104

58

.642

17

12

.586

103

59

.636

24

7

.774

103

59

.636

16

13

.552

102

60

.630

23

8

.742

102

60

.630

15

14

.517

101

60

.623

22

9

.710

101

61

.623

14

15

.483

100

61

.617

21

10

.677

100

62

.617

13

16

.448

99

62

.611

20

11

.645

99

63

.611

12

17

.414

98

63

.605

19

12

.613

98

64

.605

11

18

.379

97

64

.599

18

13

.581

97

65

.599

10

19

.345

96

65

.593

17

14

.548

96

66

.593

9

20

.310

95

66

.586

16

15

.516

95

67

.586

8

21

.276

94

67

.580

15

16

.484

94

68

.580

7

22

.241

93

68

.574

14

17

.452

93

69

.574

6

23

.207

92

69

.568

13

18

.419

92

70

.568

5

24

.172

91

70

.562

12

19

.387

91

71

.562

4

25

.138

90

71

.556

11

20

.355

90

72

.556

3

26

.103

89

72

.549

10

21

.323

89

73

.549

2

27

.069

88

73

.543

9

22

.290

88

74

.543

1

28

.034

87

74

.537

8

23

.258

87

75

.537

0

29

.000

86

75

.531

7

24

.226

86

76

.531







6

25

.194

85

77

.525







5

26

.161

84

78

.519







4

27

.129

83

79

.512







3

28

.097

82

80

.506







2

29

.065

81

81

.500







1

30

.032

80

82

.494







0

31

.000

79

83

.488




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Correction: The original chart contained an error and should now be corrected.