The Cardinals amazing run since Mike Shildt took over as manager lifted them into a wildcard spot with a win on Saturday night, but a Sunday loss to the Brewers dropped them behind not only Milwaukee, but Atlanta, Philadelphia, Arizona and Colorado in the National League Wild Card race. Since Atlanta and Philly were tied for the N.L. East lead and Arizona and Colorado are tied for the Western division’s top spot, the Cards are really in third in the race…but the point is that they shouldn’t worry about what everyone else is doing.
After Sunday afternoon’s games, the top eight teams in the National League were separated by 5.5 games. Four of those teams have exactly 68 wins. When a team can move within the standings so quickly, what’s the point of scoreboard watching? All these teams can do is worry about themselves, and let the standings take care of themselves.
Amazingly, the Central Division is still in play. Cubs manager Joe Maddon admitted after Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh that he’s willing to burn up his bullpen because his offense has sputtered so much. In taking Tyler Chatwood out after two walks in the second inning and a leadoff walk in the third, Maddon told MLB.com “I didn’t see it getting better. The two walks led to two of the three runs. I know we’re not scoring runs, and I know [Pirates starter Joe Musgrove] is pitching really well. So it’s a bad assumption to think that if you continue to let them maybe get four or five [runs] at that point, that you would have any chance.”
On Sunday, the Cubs didn’t score for the last nine innings in a 2-1, 11 inning loss to the Pirates, and now they’ve scored zero or one runs in five of their last six games. So even with a trip to Detroit and then home series against Cincinnati and the Mets on the horizon, there’s no guarantee the Cubs will pull away.
While the Cards are in a position to keep an eye on Chicago, they’re still four games behind. However, they are 21-11 under Shildt, and if they can manage to go 22-15 the rest of the way, that will get them to 90 wins. The Braves still have fourteen games left with the Diamondbacks, Cardinals and Phillies in addition to a three-game series with the Red Sox. Philly has those six against Atlanta, plus three against the Cubs and four against the Rockies. Milwaukee has six against the Cubs and three against the Cards, but their other 27 games are against non- contenders. Arizona has a brutal schedule, with 26 games against Seattle, the Dodgers, Braves, Rockies and Astros. Just ten Diamondback games are against teams out of the race. The Rockies, who just completed a four-game sweep in Atlanta, have three against the Cardinals next weekend, and in September face the Dodgers and D-Backs thirteen times and then host the Phillies for four in the final week of the season. The Dodgers have twenty of their remaining games against the Cardinals (seven), Rockies and Diamondbacks.
The Cardinals, by the way, have nineteen against the Dodgers, Rockies, Brewers and Cubs, and play their other eighteen against the Pirates, Reds, Nationals, Tigers and Giants.
Ultimately, scoreboard watching is going to be a fruitless pursuit for all of us. With as close as the division and wild card races are in the National League, all it’s going to take is one mistake by one team in one game against the Reds, Padres or Marlins that will change the complexion of the entire league.
Remember the final Saturday of the season in 2011, when the Cubs’ Carlos Marmol walked Ryan Theriot with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, and then tossed a wild pitch to score Adron Chambers with the winning run in a 2-1 Cardinal victory? That’s the sort of goofiness that I would anticipate will define the rest of August and September in the National League.
All the Cardinals must do is be what they’ve been since July 15, when Shildt took over. They’ve won seven straight series for the first time since April and May of the 100-win season of 2015. They’ve accomplished those series wins by playing smart, aggressive baseball and getting great pitching. They have a National League leading 2.59 ERA in August. If they can keep that ERA down around three for the rest of the season, they have a great chance to get to that magic 90-win mark. And if they get to 90…based upon where the were before Shildt took over…they should be happy and take their chances.