ST. LOUIS, Mo. (BaseballStL) -- This was supposed to be easy. It really was. The Cardinals should’ve had this NL Central locked up long ago. They should be focused on getting ready for the Dodgers next week.
But they aren’t. The Pirates got red hot (winning 16 of their last 20) and the Cards have scuffled. Now it’s no sure thing the Redbirds will even be division champs.
This is the most likely optimal outcome. Despite the fact Pittsburgh’s gotten hot the Cardinals still lead the division by a game with just 3 to play. So if the Cards win 2 of 3 in Arizona, Pittsburgh has to sweep Cincinnati just to tie it up. If the Cards take only 1 in Arizona, Pittsburgh just has to win 2. Pretty simple.
This is the scenario the Cardinals really would prefer to happen for a number of reasons. Obviously, they wouldn’t have to play a tiebreaker or a wild card game and would automatically go on to face the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Friday in the NLDS. They would also get to save their pitching from having to throw in any games after Sunday and before the start of the division series. Sunday is the last regularly scheduled regular season game. Friday is Game 1 of the NLDS. That’s a lot of rest. Rest that wouldn’t happen – as much – if they don’t win this thing by Sunday. Adam Wainwright would be fully rested to go Game 1 as well.
Pirates win the NL Central outright
This is the least likely outcome. The Cardinals would have to lose at least 2 games this series against the Diamondbacks and the Pirates would then have to be a couple games better in their series versus the Reds. It’s possible – given the way the Cards have hit lately – but it’s unlikely to happen. Still, if it does, that means the Redbirds would be forced to play the wild card game against the Giants on Wednesday in either St. Louis or San Francisco…depending on how both teams finish up. The winner of the wild card game goes to Washington for the NLDS.
Should the Cardinals and Pirates tie at the end of games on Sunday then the two teams would play a tiebreaker at Busch Stadium on Monday. The winner would advance to the NLDS against the Dodgers in LA on Friday. The loser would face the Giants in the wild card game on Wednesday.
No matter what happens in a potential tiebreaker that would hurt from a pitching standpoint. Wainwright, Lynn and Wacha would be flat out unavailable on Monday. Miller and Lackey would be the two primary candidates to throw. Then if the Cards lost and had to play again on Wednesday the options would be narrowed even more for the starting assignment.
There’s an awful lot that can happen between now and Sunday. That’s why every game for the Cardinals – and Pirates, too – is crucial.