Ah, if only we could just play the Marlins all the time.
Winning five out of every seven games wouldn't look too very bad over the course of a full season, now would it? Probably put you on pace for somewhere right around, what, 120 wins or so? I'll take it.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals still have to play the rest of the league, against which they haven't been quite so successful. And that's what they're going to have to try and correct over the next week.
Strangely enough, the Cardinals still find themselves, somehow, in the race for the wild card. Still five games back, but still, technically, in the race.
The main reason the Cards can say this is mostly due to a recent, fortuitous slide by the Brewers ahead of them. After going absolutely insane for the better part of two months, Milwaukee has hit a bit of a skid as of late. They've gone only 5-5 in their last ten games. Sadly, our own hometown nine have gone 4-6 over that same stretch, losing another game in the standings that they simply can't afford.
Coming up this week, the Cardinals have a three game series against the Cubs. I'm not even going to say how huge of a series it is; I'm tired of saying it and you guys have got to be tired of hearing it by now. But if there were ever a time this season you wanted to play the Cubbies, this has got to be it. We've all heard by now of the issues that pitcher Carlos Zambrano is having with his shoulder, and the Cubs skipped Rich Harden his last time through. They've gone 3-7 in their last ten, and just recently ended a long losing skid. In short, this is a team that's down right now. They're still scoring plenty of runs, but the pitching just flat out hasn't been there.
After the series with the Northsiders, the Cards head to Pittsburgh for a weekend three spot. Then, it's on to Cincinnati for three. The road schedule for 2008 ends with a series up in the Windy City.
The Birds haven't handled their business against the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, period. They have a losing record against the Buccos; if you're really a playoff caliber team, that's just inexcusable. Don't get me wrong, the Pirates look to be a little better team this year than they have been the past few seasons, but that's still not a good outfit up there. The Cardinals have done much better against the Reds, treating them the way you're supposed to treat a second division team.
Out of the six games the Cardinals will play in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, I think they need to win five of them. Two out of three in one series, and a sweep in the other. Obviously, we've seen this team have huge problems sweeping series this year, but that needs to stop. If the Cards want to make an actual run at this thing, they've got to sweep one of those two series.
What about the Cubs' series? One here, and one in Chicago; six games in less than a week and a half. As I said before, the Cubbies are down right now, and it's tough to say just which pitchers the Cards will see in those six games. If you assume they'll see Zambrano once at his recent level and Harden once, you have to like your chances of taking at least one of those two games. Bottom line, the Cardinals should be able to take four of six against Chicago. Will that happen? Tough to say, but there's no reason why it shouldn't. We will have to see Dempster and his ridiculous glove histrionics twice, but you have to take one of those two.
So, up to the end of the road trip, I'm currently saying the Cardinals need to go 9-3. That's a pretty tall order, I know, but the schedule suddenly isn't looking quite so daunting as it was not too very long ago. With Chicago fighting it, you could say the next four series all set up pretty well for the Cards.
After that, well, that's the tricky part. The Cardinals head back home for seven games to finish out the season. Sadly, home has not been particularly good to the Redbirds in 2008, and four of those games come against Arizona. The Diamondbacks will be fighting for their own playoff lives over the course of those four games, as the Dodgers have recently gone on a winning streak that has catapulted them past the Snakes and into the lead in the NL West. With the pitching that the D-Backs can throw at you, I don't personally see the Cards doing any better than a sweep in that one. They finish it off with three more against Cincinnati here. Another two out of three is probably what we're looking at to finish out the season.
Overall, that would put the Cardinals at 13-6 from here on out. Again, I'm not saying it will happen, but I think it's definitely doable. Unfortunately, if the Brewers play even one game under .500 over their last nineteen, that would only net the Cards four games in the standings. On the other hand, if the Cards could add even one more win to that total, then all bets would, in fact, be off.
So that's basically the hill the Cards are currently looking to climb. To have a legitimate shot at catching Milwaukee, they probably need to find a way to somehow go 14-5 over the last nineteen games of the year. They're also going to have to hope that the Brewers don't get back on track and play even any better than they have been the last two weeks. In fact, the Cardinals really need to hope that, after they lay a beating down on the Cubs, the Little Bears somehow get it going and beat up on the Brewers.
It's definitely a long shot, but it is still possible that the Cards could somehow sneak into this thing. I personally believe that 13-6 or 14-5 record would easily jump the Cards past either of the NL East teams that are also hanging around for the WC. Philadelphia actually plays Milwaukee later this week, so that certainly helps. One of the two teams the Cardinals are chasing is certainly going to lose some ground.
Will it happen? Well, honestly, I don't think so, no. But hey, just the fact that you can still look at the schedule and map out a way for the Cards to get in is pretty damned impressive. The Cardinals haven't had a really great hot streak this season; one of those streaks where absolutely everything falls into place and they roll off eight or nine wins in a row. If this particular team has one of those runs in them, it would be a terrific idea for them to pull it out right now.
Technically, there's still time. Not much, admittedly, but maybe, just maybe, enough.