The Cardinals have gone from pretender to contender and back again a number of times this year, but as the season winds down, St. Louis finds itself within striking distance of a postseason spot. Both the Central division and the second wild card spot in the National League are potentially within the Cardinals’ grasp, but with only a few weeks remaining on the 2017 season, the Birds have not yet positioned themselves for a run into October.
With the Cubs two games ahead of the Cardinals in the division race—and the Brewers a half-game behind St. Louis—the Cards needs more of a push than they’ve had already to cement their standing. Even with nine wins in their last 11 games, the Cardinals have more work to do.
Which NL Central team would you prefer to be for the stretch run? Share your thoughts.
The gap would be even greater yet if not for the recent slide by the division-leading Cubs. Chicago is 2-6 over its past eight games, allowing the Cardinals to climb back into the hunt for the Central crown. The Cubs were presumed to have the stronger roster, but their performance of late doesn’t reflect it. In fact, considering the Cardinals and Cubs have seven games remaining against one another, either side will have every opportunity to separate from the other. With three games remaining against the Cardinals and four against the Cubs, the Brewers are well within range to claim the Central, too.
With the margins so slim, the question remains: which team stands the best chance to rise above the others to win the division? First, let’s take a look at how Cardinals fans on Twitter view the topic:
Another way to look at Cardinals postseason push: Which NL Central team would you prefer to be right now based on current standings/rosters?— Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12) September 11, 2017
If you take the Twitter voters at their word, it would appear to be a two-team race in the Central. Let’s start with the Brewers, who received by far the least amount of consideration in the poll.
From late May to late July, Milwaukee controlled the NL Central. The offense stayed productive for longer than anyone anticipated, and the pitching staff has cobbled together the eighth-best ERA in the majors this season (4.08). The combination of the two has been enough to keep the Brewers in contention, but with the Cardinals surging and the Cubs possessing a more star-powered roster, it would be surprising to see the Brewers standing atop the Central when 162 games are finished following the first day of October. That’s not to say it’ll be impossible for Milwaukee to make a run at things, but if we’re discussing which team you’d most want to be—the NL Central club best positioned for a division title—the Brewers just aren’t the most prudent answer.
So the pollsters are right—in all likelihood, this race is between the Cardinals and Cubs. So which club has a better chance to take it?
As nice it would be to have confidence in the Cardinals and their ability to overtake the Cubs during the season’s final three weeks, the benefit of the doubt has to lie with the team currently holding a two-game advantage. If the Cardinals don’t stick it to the Cubs in their head-to-head match ups the rest of the way, that math will become extremely difficult to overcome. Beyond their rivalry battles with the Cardinals, the Cubs face the Mets, Rays, Brewers and Reds—not a particularly imposing schedule. If St. Louis falls flat against the Cubs, making up ground won’t be easy.
The Cardinals’ remaining schedule—two series with the Reds and one against the Pirates and Brewers each—isn’t really any tougher, which is good. But for the Cardinals to pull this off, they’ll have to beat those bad teams and get the better of the Cubs, too.
If recent trends continue, that could happen. The Cardinals have the second-best ERA in the majors in September at 2.22. The Cubs? Not so much—their collective 5.52 ERA over the first portion of the month ranks 20th in the bigs.
Even the Cubs high-powered offense has fallen flat of late—Chicago’s 32 runs scored this month ranks 28th in the majors. The Cardinals haven’t been a juggernaut by any means, but their ranking at 14th in the majors in runs this month looks better than the Cubs’ mark.
The verdict? If Chicago’s recent collapse in both major facets of the game can last through the weekend series at Wrigley, the Cardinals would be in good shape. Probability would dictate that it won’t be quite so simple. Though the Cardinals are trending in a better direction than the Cubs, the North Siders have proven themselves capable of greatness before. Add in the Cubs’ two game advantage, and the Cardinals will have their work cut out for them in dethroning the Cubs down the stretch.