St. Louis Cardinals: Playoff update, Cards inch closer to Wild Card

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 07: Yadier Molina
KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 07: Yadier Molina /

The St. Louis Cardinals’ four-game win streak has them closer to a playoff spot with twenty-three games to go.

Don’t look now, but the St. Louis Cardinals are picking up steam heading into the final twenty-three games of the season. Winners of four consecutive, the Cardinals suddenly find themselves in the hunt once again for a playoff spot. Following a loss by both the Colorado Rockies and the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cardinals are now two games back of the final Wild Card spot and four games back of the division-leading Chicago Cubs.

After posting a season-high eight game win streak in August, the Cardinals followed that by going 3-7 in their next ten games. The team sunk to third place in the division and fell to seven games back behind the Cubs. I’ll be honest, it felt as if the Cardinals were not going to make it to the post-season.

However, here we are with a chance at a 7-1 road trip, if the St. Louis Cardinals manage to fend off the San Diego Padres for a four-game sweep. With Lance Lynn on the mound, it’s safe to say the Cardinals have a great shot at heading home with a five-game win streak.

What has helped the push?

The Colorado Rockies have not been the same team that took the first half of the season by storm. Since the All-Star break, the Rockies are 22-26 compared to the Cardinals 29-22 mark. At one point, no one thought the Wild Card would be a serious avenue for the Redbirds to make the playoffs. However, now that the lead has shrunk to just a mere two games, there is more than a fighting chance.

At a micro-level, the biggest differences in the last couple of games has come down to starting pitching for both teams. The Rockies’ pitchers are running on fumes at this point. It should be to no one’s surprise either. Josh and I both pointed out in our latest podcast episode, the fact the Rockies have been able to win as many games with rookie pitcher is nothing short of amazing. However, it is now their downfall as arm’s get tired.

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On the other hand, the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting pitching started to rebound into form. The infusion of Luke Weaver into the rotation, thanks to Mike Leake’s departure, gives the rotation more stability than we have seen. The arrival of Jack Flaherty into the rotation also gave the Cardinals a boost as well. Once Adam Wainwright returns to the rotation, we will see what happens to Flaherty.

We also cannot forget what Lance Lynn and Carlos Martinez have done in their last starts, respectively. Both dominated their opponents, but unfortunately the Cardinals were only able to win one of the two starts. However, if the Cardinals are going to continue to make the push towards the playoffs, the starting pitching must continue its form.

I said it at the beginning of the season, the only reason the St. Louis Cardinals do not make it into the post-season rests solely on their starting pitching. For as many questions as we had at the beginning of the season, the starting pitchers now face a more important one: Can they finish strong?

What to watch for

The Colorado Rockies’ next eight games are against the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. To top it off, all eight are on the road. Meanwhile, the Cardinals face the Pirates and Reds. The Cubs play Milwaukee and the Mets over the same span. I like the Cardinals chances to pick up some games in the Wild Card, and possibly the division, given how Milwaukee has played Chicago this season.

However, one thing remains clear. No matter what, the Cardinals must take of their own business first, and then worry about whether the other teams lose.

After today, the St. Louis Cardinals have twenty-two games remaining on their schedule. all twenty-two games are against NL-Central division opponents. If the Cardinals are to make the playoffs, there is no choice but to improve on the 23-31 mark against division opponents this year.

Here is the order of the series for the rest of the way:

Pirates, September 8th-10th (Home)

Reds, September 12th-14th (Home)

Cubs, September 15th-17th, (Away)

Reds, September 19th-21st (Away)

Pirates, September 22nd-24th (Away)

Cubs, September 25th-28th (Home)

Milwaukee, September 29th-October 1st (Home)

I think it’s pretty clear what the Cardinals have to do the rest of the way. They need to take care of business against the Pirates and the Reds. I know it is easier said than done, but at this point , there is no holding back.

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We all know what the seven games against the Cubs means as well. Can the St. Louis Cardinals afford taking four of the seven games? Maybe, but it depends on the Wild Card spot at the time.

However, the Cardinals shouldn’t rely on the Wild Card.

If you have an opportunity to win the division and avoid the play-in game, do it. Honestly, the Cardinals need to win at least five of the seven games against the Cubs.

While I’d normally have some fear in the Brewers’ series, I’m at the point where the division is more than likely going to be decided by then. If anything, it’s possible the last Wild Card spot comes down to the Cardinals and Brewers.

If I’m banking on someone’s play in that series, though, I am taking the Cardinals hands down.

Realistically, the magic number to make the playoffs seems to reside in the 86-88 win range. If we hold true to that, the Cardinals will have to go 16-6 in the next twenty-two games. FiveThirtyEight has the Cardinals making the playoffs at 46% and winning the division at 15%.

So maybe the Cardinals play for the Wild Card, but if there is a lesson in this season, it’s not to count the Cardinals out of the race until it’s all said and done.

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The next twenty-three games will be fascinating till the end. I just hope the Cardinals are up to the task.