The St. Louis Cardinals – from the head of baseball operations to the manager to the players – have all noted countless times this week that the team controls its post-season destiny. The remains the case even after a disappointing series loss to the Kansas City Royals.
However, the hill has gotten much steeper. Certainly, the goal remains to reach the playoffs any way possible, but the Cardinals greatly prefer to not have to travel to Detroit for a make-up doubleheader on Monday to play Games 59 and 60. The contests were originally scheduled for August 3-4 at Comerica Park.
Here are the conditions for those two games to be played (or not):
“The games will be played only if a postseason position is to be determined or home field for a Wild Card Round matchup.”
(A reminder that eight teams in each league make the playoffs – the top two teams in each division plus the best two remaining teams. The bottom four seeds visit the top four seeds for the best-of-three Wild Card Series.)
The only way for the Cardinals to ensure themselves a much-needed day off on Monday would be to sweep the Milwaukee Brewers five straight. However, even if they don’t go 5-0, the Cards could still avoid Monday play via help from the Minnesota Twins, which host the Cincinnati Reds for their final three games.
Winning the Central unlikely
With 32 wins against the Cardinals’ 27, the Chicago Cubs would have to lose all four remaining games and the Cards would have to sweep Milwaukee just to get a chance to play the two make-up games, both of which St. Louis would need to win to take the division on the second tiebreaker, intradivision record.
For more likely is that St. Louis’ hopes of repeating as National League Central Division Champions will be dashed this weekend. Chicago would also secure a spot among the top four seeds in the League, assuring the Cubs of playing their entire Wild Card round at home.
With (at least) five games remaining, a much more realistic target for the Cardinals is the second-place spot in the division, which comes with an automatic playoff berth. The Cardinals would finish no better than somewhere in the five through eight seeds, making them a road warrior in the Wild Card games.
But first things first. We should not forget that with Milwaukee just one game behind St. Louis, the Brew Crew could stake their own claim for second place with a big weekend at Busch. More on that later.
Securing second place without playing Games 59/60
As noted, St. Louis’ key rival for the second spot in the division (against whom they do not play again) is Cincinnati. The results of the Reds at Twins series will affect the Cardinals’ destiny almost as much as their own contests.
The good news for Cardinals fans is that Minnesota should be motivated to play its best. Though the Twins have clinched a playoff spot, they are in a battle with the White Sox to win the AL Central Division.
The Twins are third seed and the Sox fourth seed right now, so both would host their Wild Card Series, but the Indians and Yankees could pass one or both this weekend. On the other side of the coin, Minnesota could still grab the AL’s second seed.
As the grid below denotes, to achieve the closest-in goal of avoiding the trip to Detroit, the Cardinals must win at least three games over the Brewers this weekend.
Because St. Louis took the head-to-head series with Cincinnati, six games to four, they hold the first tiebreaker advantage. For example, if St. Louis wins three and Cincinnati wins one this weekend, both teams would have 30 wins. Since St. Louis would have two fewer losses, playing Monday would not change the two clubs’ relative position in the division standings.
|St. Louis wins||0|
ND = No Detroit
The problem in losing three of five (???)
However, there is a problem if the Brewers take three of five at Busch, even if the Reds are swept and remain stuck at 29 wins. In that case, Milwaukee would finish with 30 wins and St. Louis would have just 29 – through 58 games. The Brewers would (at least temporarily) be the second-place team in the division.
If all that was at stake is which team (Milwaukee or St. Louis) is awarded second place and which team picks up the number seven or eight seed, the Cardinals would not need to play on Monday.
However, the playoff picture is bigger than the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds. The Giants, Marlins and Phillies all currently have 28 wins and are in the thick of the race as well. And of these six teams, only four will make the post-season field. (As second-place contenders in the East, one of Miami and Philadelphia will get in, but both have a shot.)
(See the full standings here.)
So depending on how Cincinnati, San Francisco, Miami and Philadelphia fare this weekend, St. Louis’ Games 59 and 60 will need to be played – if it means the difference for one of these teams getting into the field of eight.
Continuing this weekend three-loss scenario for both the Cardinals and Reds, Monday’s results could swing St. Louis’ record anywhere from 31-29 to 29-31. 31 wins would give them second in the division. 30 wins could secure them a seventh or eighth seed (but not second in the division, because Milwaukee would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker), but the Cardinals could also miss out entirely, depending on the other contenders. Finally, just 29 wins in 60 games could send the Cardinals (and the Reds both) home for the winter.
In other words, the Cardinals control their own destiny – sort of. Taking the Brewers series would surely go a long way.
The first is a case in which the Cardinals could have to play Monday even if they sweep Milwaukee. It would require San Diego to be swept.
The second went beyond the scope of the this article to illustrate how the Cardinals could still take second place in the NL Central after winning just two games this weekend. It would also require the Reds to go 1-2 at Minnesota and for the Cards to then split in Detroit on Monday .
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