The date is September 9th, and the Cardinals hold a ½-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second NL wildcard spot with 23 games to play. Predicting exactly what will happen in the next three weeks would be foolish, but using 140 games as a sample size could paint a picture of the Cards’ chances.
The Cardinals’ remaining schedule is composed of 13 road games and 10 home games – the Cards are 13 games above .500 at home, but only 32-36 away from Busch Stadium.
The Cards will play against the Astros and Dodgers for six and four games respectively, more than any other remaining opponent. The Cardinals are 6-3 against Houston this season, but only 3-4 against L.A.
Of their remaining 23 games, the Cards play 13 against NL Central opponents – today’s game against the Brewers, six against the Astros, three in Chicago, and three against the Reds to end the season. The Cardinals are 35-29 against NL Central teams this season, and are a combined seven games over .500 against Houston, Chicago, and Milwaukee. The Cards are an even 6-6 against Cincinnati in 2012. The Cardinals also go on a seven-game west coast trip to L.A. and San Diego. The Cards are 19-10 against the NL West this season, including a perfect 3-0 record against the Padres.
The Cards have struggled against right-handed pitching this season, posting a 47-51 record against righties while going 27-14 against left-handed starters. In their next seven games, the Cards are slated to face four left-handed starters including Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles.
The Cardinals boast a +93 run differential, good for second in the NL and third in all of baseball. A big reason why is that the Cards are an impressive 27-16 in blowout games in which the game is decided by five or more runs. However, in one-run games the Cardinals are just 16-23. Blowouts and close games are impossible to predict, but the strength of the Cardinals’ opponents is certainly favorable. The Cards play 12 of their remaining 23 games against the Astros, Cubs, and Padres who are a combined 96 games below .500. The Cubs and Astros have run differentials of -125 and -206, respectively, making them prime blowout candidates for the Cards.
The Cardinals end their 2012 regular season with six games at home against the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, two teams that hold 6.5 and 9.5-game leads in their respective divisions. With only 23 games left to play, it is probable (though never 100% certain) that both teams will wrap up their divisions before the Cardinals play them. This means that the Cards will catch the two best teams by record in the NL when they will be resting their position players and maneuvering their starting pitchers to set up their rotation for the postseason. Through absolute luck, the Cardinals may have the luxury of playing their final six games against back-ups and minor leaguers in their push for a wildcard berth.
The remaining schedule looks favorable, especially when looking at Houston, Chicago, and San Diego along with possible backups for series against Washington and Cincinnati. The biggest series of the 2012 season may very well be the four-game set against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, where the Cards must overcome their sub-.500 road record, their sub-.500 record against the Dodgers, and Kershaw, all while nursing what is now a ½-game lead over said Dodgers for the second wildcard spot. If the Cards want to taste October baseball once again, they will need to take care of business against the terrible teams, split against L.A., and finish strong at home. Certainly easier said than done.