St. Louis Cardinals: Great progress, but uphill battle with Cubs

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 22: Adam Wainwright
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 22: Adam Wainwright /

I freely admit the St. Louis Cardinals have achieved far more than I expected this season. That’s a statement not only about the surprisingly weak competition atop the National League Central, but the feistiness of our home team.

We should all be thrilled hope remains for the St. Louis Cardinals‘ playoff performance this year, as the team climbed into a virtual tie with Chicago on Sunday.  It’s important, however, to examine the landscape of the remainder of the schedule to better judge the prospects of the competing teams.

In this space, we’ll look at the top two contenders as of today, the Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs. That’s not to, in any way, dismiss the potential of either the Milwaukee Brewers or the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, the longtime rivalry between Chicago and St. Louis deserves its own focal point, and no doubt it will form much of the press hype as August and September drone on.

So with all that in mind, there are several distinct advantages that lie with the Wrigleyites, and other factors that remain a bit more ambiguous:

Home versus road: From Aug. 14 on, the Cubs have twenty-six games at home versus only twenty on the road. The Cards are flip-flopped, having only nineteen at Busch — where they have played vastly better than they did in the home-win-starved 2016 campaign. They must go on the road for twenty-five of their final forty-four games.

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The Cubs aren’t quite as strong at home as the Cards.

Each team has 26 losses at home, but by virtue of the Cubs’ more road-based schedule to date, they have three less wins at home than do the Cards.

On the road, though, the Cubs are a couple of games over .500, while the Cards, with more road than home games remaining, sit four under away from Busch.

Home versus road, Part Two:
The other aspect of travel that could have an impact on the race is the length and distance of the remaining road trips for each team. The Cards have both a ten-game and a nine-game trip remaining, with one of them primarily on the West Coast. The Cubs have one trip of ten games, but nothing else longer than six games, and they’re done in the West.

Series versus competitors: Here, too, the Cubs have an edge. Of the series each team has left, the Cards have nine against teams still in serious competition for the postseason, with a total of twenty-seven games. The Cubs? Only seven series, and a slight advantage with only twenty-six against contenders.

Head to head: The Cubs and Cards have seven games left, and on the surface it might look like the St. Louisans have the advantage, with four of those games home at Busch. But the issue is the Cards are an anemic 4-8 against the North Siders to date this season. So achieving even parity will prove a major challenge.

The Big Unknown: What no one knows is which Cards team and which Cubs team will show up for the remainder of the year. While the Chicagoans have never looked like their 2016 championship edition — starting pitching deficits and a hugely disappointing Kyle Schwarber have been among the deficits — most of the parts remain intact (though the loss of Willson Contreras hurts hugely).

The Cardinals have been a mediocre commodity most of the season, but they’ve been All-World in August, riding an eight-game win streak heading into Sunday. So will the remainder of the season emulate the vast majority of the year, with its win one, lose one modality, or the amped up, more recent vintage?

Next: The strides of Kolten Wong

We have absolutely no clue, of course. But we’ll hope that the August edition can carry through the remainder of the 2017 season. If it does, it’s possible we’ll see the vaunted Cubs recede into the rear-view mirror.