Bird Bytes, as we look forward to a Cards-Cubs weekend at Wrigley Field …
1. As play begins Thursday, the Cardinals’ chances of winning the NL Central had slipped to 14.9 percent according to the Playoff Odds Report at Baseball Prospectus. Wednesday’s 6-0 loss to the visiting Reds — combined with wins on the same night by the first-place Cubs and the second-place Brewers — made the Cards’ playoff odds slip. It was a bleak defeat for several reasons, and we’ll get into some of that later. But here are updated odds through the end of Wednesday:
Winning the NL Central:
Cubs 70.5 percent
Cardinals 14.9 percent
Brewers 14.6 percent.
In their attempt to take complete control of the division and win it for a second consecutive season, the Cubs have experienced many fluctuations this season. Near the end of April, Chicago’s chances of winning the Central stood at 84 percent … by the All-Star break, that had dropped to 32 percent … the playoff probability rose to 83% by Aug. 1, then peaked at 92% on Sept. 2 … but after losing six of eight, the Cubs’ odds fell to 60% … and now, after two wins over the hapless Mets, the Cubs have pulled their odds back up to 70.5 percent.
2. Point is: the Cubs have given the Cardinals and Brewers many openings, a bunch of chances, to take advantage of the up-and-down nature of the defending World Series champions’ 2017 season. And while the Brewers and Cardinals have narrowed the gap several times in the second half, the Cubs have maintained their lead.
3. Obviously, the Cardinals continue to do considerable harm to their improbable playoff bid with their frequent pratfalls against the Reds. I have talked about this often and it’s still an issue. The Reds — who rank 26th among the 30 MLB teams with a .432 winning percentage — are 9-6 against the Cardinals this season. Last year the Cards managed a 10-9 record against Cincinnati, not good enough, and the near parity with the Reds was ruinous considering that STL missed an NL wild-card spot by one game. And here we go again in 2017.
4. After splitting the first two games, the Cardinals must rebound from the 6-0 drubbing to win Thursday’s day game to capture the series. No reasonable person demands a three-game sweep, but I think we should insist that the Cardinals win this one and at least take two of three from the Reds. The Cardinals already lost ground to the Cubs and Brewers because of their latest failure against a rebuilding Reds franchise that’s 46 games under .500, and 29th in winning percentage (.425) over the last two seasons. The Cardinals cannot lose a series to Cincinnati on Sept. 14, risk increasing the deficit (should the Cubs shove the Mets out of the way again) and make it extremely difficult to get past Chicago by the end of the regular season.
5. And don’t forget, that after leaving Chicago, the Cardinals will have Monday off before starting a three-game series at Cincinnati on Tuesday. The Reds will have another crack at wrecking the Cards’ postseason aspirations. And it’s fair to say that if your favorite team can’t prevail in the season series from a Reds’ side that has the worst ERA — 5.24 — in the majors this season, the your favorite team doesn’t deserve to participate in the postseason tournament.
6. Going into Thursday, Reds starters’ had a 5.05 ERA against St. Louis this year — and the Cincinnati starters have posted a 5.75 ERA against all other teams. Same with the Reds bullpen: a 3.81 ERA vs. St. Louis; and 4.73 against everyone else.
7. Of course, it might help the cause for manager Mike Matheny to utilize his expanded bullpen, one that has SEVEN righthanded relievers available, to go against a dangerous RH-swinging Reds power hitter, Eugenio Suarez, in a crucial situation Wednesday night. But with all of those right arms to choose from to get a more favorable matchup against the RHB cleanup hitter, Matheny ignored the tilted the platoon splits that gave Suarez a big edge against LH pitchers. Matheny stayed with lefty Ryan Sherriff. He stayed with Sherriff even though Suarez has a booming .535 slugging percentage and .934 OPS vs. LH pitching the season. (Grand slam, 6-0 lead, thank you for attending the game, and please drive safely on your way home.) What is the point of having a football-roster-sized bullpen if you don’t put it to work to at least try and prevent a game from being lost, right then and there?
8. Yeah. The Cardinals’ hitters didn’t score, and flopped in multiple chances to do something with the many base runners that were waiting to come home … so … you are right. Matheny didn’t lose Wednesday’s game. But coming back from a 2-0 deficit is a helluva lot easier than wiping out a six-run deficit. After Suarez put the Cardinals away, Matheny did not hesitate to put a sequence of three RH relievers into the action. And John Gant, Sam Tuivailala and Matthew Bowman allowed only one hit with no walks in their combined four innings of shutout relief. Too late, skipper.
9. Cardinals pitchers, who have been so good most of the season, have been unable to escape the wrath of the Reds. Through Wednesday, Cards’ pitchers had a 4.32 rotation ERA and a 5.55 bullpen ERA vs. Cincinnati in 2017.
10. Luke Weaver, do your thing Thursday to get the Cardinals to Chicago at no worse than 3 games out of first place. As a starter this season, Weaver is averaging 12.3 strikeouts per 9 innings. For a pitcher with a rather modest frame, this dude throws a heavy punch.
Thanks for reading …