Welcome to Playoff-Ology 101; where you will learn about the new MLB playoff system and how it benefits the St. Louis Cardinals.
In a blink of an eye, the St. Louis Cardinals are already approaching the middle of September and are in the midst of a heated NL playoff race, as well as contending for the NL Central.
In 2019, the Cardinals went on an absolute tear in the latter part of the season and won the NL Central on the last day of the season (with the help of a Trevor Story homer that beat the Brewers).
This season has been peculiar in almost every way possible. From not being able to start the MLB season until late July due to the COVID-19 pandemic taking out every sport, to the COVID outbreak in the Cardinals clubhouse which would sideline the whole Cardinals team for almost three weeks; they have already had to deal with a ton of adversity throughout this mess of a season. They also lost one of their top pitchers in Miles Mikolas, who went down with a season-ending injury in his right arm.
Regardless of the cards that have been dealt over the past few months, the Cardinals are still in possession of a playoff spot with the sixth seed and would face the Atlanta Braves in a 2019 NLDS rematch if the season ended today.
In previous years, having the sixth seed would mean they would not have made the postseason; because only five teams per league made it to the playoffs. Due to the circumstances of COVID-19, the MLB and the MLBPA agreed to expand the playoffs to eight teams per league for the 2020 season.
The MLB decided to adopt their version of the NHL’s playoff system instead of going with an outright top eight-team system as the NBA does. The top two teams in each NL and AL division will head to the playoffs, and there will be a pair of wild card spots for each league as well.
This is super beneficial for the Cardinals’ playoff hopes this season. Many fans as well as analysts did not expect the Cardinals to be a playoff team heading into 2020, especially since they decided to let one of their top hitters from the previous season in Marcell Ozuna walk in free agency.
With the playoffs expanding, it gives the Cardinals more breathing room as well as life in the playoff race; and the ball club has taken advantage of that by putting together a solid season.
Since the Cardinals had to miss almost three weeks due to the in-house COVID outbreak, they have had to make up games by taking part in a gauntlet of a schedule.
Since they have returned to play on August 15th, they have played six double-headers with only two off days in the process. On Wednesday, the Cardinals take their final off day of the season; but after that; their schedule is no joke.
They will spend the next three weeks playing nonstop baseball as well as play in four double-headers; with three of those being next week. The Cardinals would have needed to make up games, but that’s brutal. They could be limping into the postseason by the time September ends if they are still in the race by then.
Though the Cardinals, who are currently 18-17, are in possession of a playoff spot right now, the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds could still pass them up if things go bad quickly. The Brewers are currently sitting two games behind the Cardinals, as the Reds are only one game behind the Brewers.
The Brewers have a crucial series coming up this weekend against the division-leading Chicago Cubs. If they can play well, they will still be a threat for St. Louis in the playoff race; but if not, the Cubs’ grasp on the NL Central could get out of reach for St. Louis, but add more of a cushion to their playoff spot.
They have a pretty rough schedule coming up as well, but those two series remaining against the Cardinals will be crucial in deciding that second seed in the NL Central. If 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich can return to his usual self, that will be a major boost for the Brewers.
The Reds have been a disappointment, but they are still in the thick of the playoff race as well. They face the Cardinals this weekend and could pass them with a sweep, or have their playoff hopes buried with a rough series.
Currently, FanGraphs has the Cardinals playoff chances at a 79.2%. Getting the second seed in the NL Central is the most realistic option, but they aren’t too far behind the Cubs being only three games back. Though winning the Central isn’t as crucial this season due to the expanded playoff system, it would still be nice to have the Wild Card round played at Busch Stadium (even without fans).
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The Cardinals’ shot at the playoffs currently rests in their own hands, the team has a doubleheader against a depleted Detroit Tigers team on Thursday and could get a well-needed boost in the playoff race with a sweep. Regardless, there is still a lot of baseball to be played over the next couple of weeks, and EVERY game counts. Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride; because it’s going to be bumpy.