With the season winding down, and with each game within each series held as “important,” it can be hard to pick out the games that are truly more significant than the rest. The remaining St. Louis Cardinals series have ordered significance towards reaching the playoffs.
For the St. Louis Cardinals, whose necessity to win late in the season is clear, every result that doesn’t go your way can seem like a monumental setback. Even more important and upsetting is relying on another team’s loss to shape your destiny– one of the most painful things a sports fan can do.
I am going to try and draw the line in the sand between these series, to truly single out those series that are significant enough to pay attention to, and whose results may influence the shape of the St. Louis Cardinals playoff picture.
This list is based on the following, listed in no particular order: affect on division standings, opponent quality, time in the season, length of games, and the importance of having positive momentum going into the next series.
For more on the MLB standings, visit the official standings page of MLB.com.
Tier 5: The Breaks
14. August 22-24: 3 games vs. San Diego
13. August 31-September 2: 3 games @ San Francisco
These two series are the unquestionable reprieves of the schedule, coming directly after short series’ with division opponents. They are meant as padding, with another non-divisional series following these two before returning to the division.
On top of that, the Giants and Padres have not had years about which to call home. The Giants sit at 47-73, while the Padres are not much better at 52-66. These aren’t games that the St. Louis Cardinals should take off by any means, but these are the games that offer the easiest load mentally for the Cards.
Tier 4: The Transitional Games
12. August 25-27: 3 games vs. Tampa Bay
11. August 15-16: 2 games @ Boston
10. September 4-7: 4 games @ San Diego
I get that it might seem odd to place a San Diego series based on my previous argument, but that’s because these three are grouped on a slightly different premise. Unlike the previous two series, who had non-divisional series afterwords as buffers to recover, these series transition directly into division series.
Tampa Bay has preformed better than the teams in the previous tier, sporting a 59-61 record, but they are preceding the shortest division series of the three: a 2-game road series with Milwaukee.
Boston is clearly the best team of the three on the tier, but having only two games with them significantly mitigates the impact of losses. That series also precedes a 4-game road series with Pittsburgh, bringing a bit more importance towards building momentum. However, the Cardinals bring a huge amount of momentum into that series already.
That wave from the huge winning streak may not be gone come September, but it will surely be smaller. The series against San Diego will be big in trying to regain any momentum that they may have lost. It is also their final non-divisional series before a flurry of divisional match ups to wind down the season, further incentivizing gaining momentum there.
Tier 3: The Division Warmups (and some Cincy)
9. August 29-30: 2 games @ Milwaukee
8. August 17-20: 4 games @ Pittsburgh
7. September 12-15: 3 games vs Cincinnati
These are the less important divisional games in my eyes in terms of their overall ramifications on the standings and in the momentum and rhythm lost or generated. While winning these games and keeping pace is important, having a tough time in these series will not be as damning as losing in some of these bigger series later on.
The Brewers are unquestionably still in the race, and the pit stop that the Cardinals take in Milwaukee will be a small but prime opportunity to create more breathing room for the Cardinals on that end.
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The series with the Pirates has more sway because of the potential for four Cardinal victories to close in on the division crown as opposed to two, and catching up to first is far more important than spacing oneself from third and fourth place. This is also an opportunity to really make it difficult for the Pirates to compete and to make the NL Central a three-team race.
Finally, while Cincinnati is a team already out of the division race, it is the timing of this series that makes it significant. As I mentioned above, the final non-division series the Cardinals have ends on September 7, giving them essentially a month’s worth of series to finish shaping the division.
This series is the easiest the Cardinals will have in that stretch, and it is early enough for the Cardinals to either get out of a slump for a final push, or to really start to hit their stride and pick up a good rhythm for the remainder of the season to carry into the playoffs.
Tier 2: An Eye on these Results
6. September 19-21: 3 games @ Cincinnati
5. September 8-10: 3 games vs Pittsburgh
These series are very important to maintaining footing over the last month of the season, but they are also series that I am expecting the St. Louis Cardinals to do well in.
This Cincinnati series has much less margin for error than the one in the previous list. The Cardinals will have 10 games left after that series, and not a lot of time to turn things around should the team’s performance go south.
While the Pittsburgh series is earlier than the Cincy series, the Reds aren’t competing and the Pirates will most likely still be in the running when this series comes along. If the Cardinals didn’t put them away in the August series, having success here will be important in starting the division stretch on a high note and overcoming the Pirates psychologically.
Tier 1: Be ready to watch these
4. September 22-24: 3 games @ Pittsburgh
3. September 29-October 1: 3 games vs Milwaukee
This is the final series with Pittsburgh, but it is less about keeping Pittsburgh down and more about simply winning late in the season. This series also directly precedes an even more important one, making the idea of losing momentum in this series seem possibly fatal to the Cardinals playoff hopes.
The Milwaukee series is the last series of the season, so the team you see there will be the one most closely resembling what will be seen in the postseason. Also, as St. Louis Cardinals fans know, the last game of the season can be the difference between a playoff berth and staying home, and being against another competing team only makes it more crucial.
Tier 0: Taming the Cubs
2. September 15-17: 3 games @ Chicago
1. September 25-28: 4 games vs Chicago
Was there any doubt? Following the team’s recent surge, the Cardinals are now neck-and-neck with their northern rivals for the NL Central crown.
To put into perspective how much impact these game carry, here are some numbers. These series have the potential to be a seven-game swing between the Cubs and Cardinals, since each game will be a win for one side and a loss for another.
To that point, 6.5 games is the most the St. Louis Cardinals have been behind the Cubs ALL YEAR.
An outstanding or abysmal performance in these series could make many of the other’s obsolete, and these seven games could easily be what determines the NL Central, no matter the other results simply because of its weight on both first and second place.
Of course, this assumes the Cardinals are still in second by the time they face the Cubs, and can be rendered obsolete with a slew of bad games early in this final stretch of the year. With the life that the Cardinals have recently shown, and players settling into their roles, we can only hope the Cardinals make these games important.