St. Louis's Two-Week Test
This year, it’s a completely different story.
Right now, with almost exactly a month left in the regular season, the Cardinals and Pirates are in a dead tie at the top of division at 76-54. 2 and a half games back are the Reds, 74-57.
But in the next two weeks, those numbers could completely change thanks to a crazy upcoming stretch for the Cardinals.
In their next 13 games, the Cardinals will play exclusively the Pirates and Reds.
They open up a 3-game home stand against the Reds tonight, then following an off-day on Thursday, they head to Pittsburgh for a 3-game series, then Cincinnati for 4 games before returning home for 3 games against those familiar Pirates once again.
The Cardinals have won 7 of their last 9 after an unsteady start in the month of August. They just took 3 out of 4 from the NL’s top dog Atlanta behind tremendous pitching, particularly a compete game, 9-strikeout performance from Adam Wainwright on Friday. Yet now, for the next two weeks, each win and loss means a little bit more.
Despite three playoff appearances in the past 4 years, the Cardinals have only won the NL Central division 1 time since their 2006 World Series Championship. Last year they took the wildcard and beat the Braves in the one-game playoff game while the Reds took the division and a year earlier while the Brewers won the division, the Cardinals won the wildcard and then went on to win the World Series.
The Pirates are clearly the sentimental favorites, not having made the playoffs since 1992, but this year they have a team that can go hit-for-hit with Cardinals. Both teams have steady, reliable bullpens and solid starting rotations. The Cardinals hitting all around is better, but the Pirates have arguably the best all around hitter between the two teams in Andrew McCutchen as well as the best power hitter in Pedro Alvarez.
Then there’s the Reds who have a great 3-4-5 combo to anchor their lineup with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce, but their pitching is easily the weakest between the three teams.
If all three squads continue to stay 15-20 games over .500 for the remainder of the season, it’s likely that the two teams that don’t win the Central will compete in the NL Wildcard play-in game, but it would undoubtedly be preferred by all parties if their fate weren’t up to a single game.