Let Me Schedule You In

With a day off and the final month of the season approaching, I thought I’d take a look at what’s coming up for the three teams in the NL Central.  I’m sure this has been done other places and better, but I don’t think I’ve seen it yet, so I’m doing this as much for my benefit as to put something up here on the blog.

I’m going to assume that the Diamondbacks and Nationals won’t make a run, though that may be a dangerous assumption to make.  Arizona is six games back and Washington 6.5, but that’s from the last wild-card spot.  Add 3.5 games to each of those and you can see that it’d take a 2011-like run for the Cards to not at least get a wild card.  So I’m just going to focus on the closest competition.

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up, shall we?

Cincinnati Reds

Current record: 75-59
On pace for: 91-71
Currently: 3.5 games out in the NL Central

Who do they have left to visit?  Colorado (3), Milwaukee (3), Houston (3), Pittsburgh (3)
Who do they have left to host?  St. Louis (4), Los Angeles Dodgers (3), Chicago Cubs (3), New York Mets (3), Pittsburgh (3)
Total games against .500 or better teams (as of 8/29): 13
Total games against teams under .500: 15
What’s their 2013 record against these teams?
Colorado 1-2; St. Louis 5-10; LA 1-3; Chicago 13-3; Milwaukee 9-7; Houston 0-0; Pittsburgh 6-7; NY 3-0. Combined: 38-32 (.543)

Thoughts: If Arizona and Washington are thinking they are going to make a run, it’s because of what they see on Cincinnati’s schedule.  Those aren’t just barely .500 teams that they are having to play.  Almost half of them are against either division leaders or almost division leaders.  They do have some soft spots in the next month, but that’s a chore.

If we apply their winning percentages against those teams to the games that they have left, Cincy would wind up with a record of 15-15 over that stretch (assuming they’d win two of three against the Astros) which would leave them at 90-72.  That’s still probably enough to win the second wild card, but it would mean going on the road to face either a Pittsburgh team that they have lost four of six (so far) at PNC or a St. Louis team that has typically owned them this season.

In August, the Reds have hit .238/.318/.378 as a team (and that includes Wednesday night’s pasting of the Cards) but have gone 15-10 in that stretch, mainly because the team ERA over that span is 3.85.  They’ll have to step up the hitting and hope they don’t fall out of the race early–after this weekend’s set with the Rockies, they host the Cards and Dodgers for seven games which could completely end their dreams of a divisional title if they go badly.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Current record: 77-56
On pace for: 94-68
Currently: 1 game out in the NL Central

Who do they have left to visit?  Milwaukee (3), St. Louis (3), Texas (3), Chicago Cubs (3), Cincinnati (3)
Who do they have left to host?  St. Louis (3), Chicago Cubs (4), San Diego (4), Cincinnati (3)
Total games against .500 or better teams: 15
Total games against teams under .500: 14
What’s their 2013 record against these teams?
Milwaukee 10-6; St. Louis 8-5; Texas 0-0; Chicago 7-5; Cincinnati 7-6; San Diego 2-1. Combined: 34-23 (.596)

Thoughts: You have to like where Pittsburgh is sitting.  True, they are only 26-26 since the end of June (and under .500 for August) but they have some success against the teams that they are going to be facing.  That said, they did just lose series to St. Louis and Milwaukee, so the momentum might be going away from them.

Still, if we apply the percentages of the past to the games of the future, we find the Pirates going 18-11 (assuming a series win over the Rangers) over this stretch to get their record up to 95-67.  Given that, in this scenario, they’d win four of six against the Cards, they’d probably take the title.  That said, I have less confidence in projecting those winning percentages given that some significant portion of the wins were garnered before the All-Star Break.

Not counting last night’s game against the Brewers, Pittsburgh has hit .255/.325/.401 in August, a respectable clip especially since their trade for a couple of bats really isn’t reflected in there.  Their pitching staff has been solid as well (3.89 ERA) so it’s a little surprising they haven’t had a better month.  They didn’t face the strongest of competition either.  Of course, they did lose two extra-inning affairs to St. Louis, including one that was in their grasp until the ball wasn’t in Starling Marte‘s.

We’ve seen fades from Pittsburgh, but I don’t think it’s going to be happening this time.  If St. Louis wants to win the divisional crown, they have to win both series against the Bucs the next two weekends.  Otherwise, there likely will be some NL Central Champs shirts printed up in black and gold (and will sell like hotcakes, you know they will).

St. Louis Cardinals

Current record: 78-55
On pace for: 95-67
Currently: 1 game ahead in the NL Central

Who do they have left to visit?  Pittsburgh (3), Cincinnati (4), Colorado (4), Milwaukee (3)
Who do they have left to host?  Pittsburgh (3), Milwaukee (3), Seattle (3), Washington (3), Chicago Cubs (3)
Total games against .500 or better teams: 13
Total games against teams under .500: 16
What’s their 2013 record against these teams?
Pittsburgh 5-8; Cincinnati 10-5; Colorado 2-1; Milwaukee 10-3; Seattle 0-0; Washington 3-0; Chicago 9-7. Combined: 39-24 (.619)

Thoughts: The schedule seems to set up very nicely for the Cardinals.  Until Washington’s resurgence, the only .500 teams they were going to have to play were their divisional rivals and for the most part they’ve had Cincinnati’s number.  They’ve obviously had some success against the teams that they will be facing over the last month, which is a nice confidence booster as well.

Doing our apply-the-percentages bit, we see the Cards going 20-9 down the stretch to get to 98-64.  That’d be enough to take the divisional title for sure and might get the Cards home field advantage throughout the playoffs due to the best record in the National League.

Still, as well as the Cards are set up, expecting to win two-thirds of the remaining games is probably a significant stretch.  The Cardinals are playing better baseball of late, with August being their best winning month since May.  They’ve won three of the last four against the Pirates, perhaps indicating that they are starting to figure them out (though the first of those wins was at the end of the disastrous five-game series in Pittsburgh and one of them was the Marte game, so maybe not as much as we’d like).

They are hitting better (.271/.336/.419 in August) and are pitching fairly well (3.77 ERA) so perhaps this is the time we see the Cards hold on to first and have a strong stretch drive instead of having to come from behind and require some help as well.  The two series with Pittsburgh will be the key–if they can win four of six (or more), they should be able to hold off the Pirates and avoid that play-in game.

There’s going to be a lot of scoreboard watching over the next few weeks, made easier by the fact that so often at least two of these teams will be playing each other.  (Sixteen of the next 32 days will see a matchup of that sort.)  It’s going to be intense and it starts tonight.  As a wise man once said, “Here’s where the fun begins.”


  • Ben Chambers August 30, 2013, 8:17 am

    Looking into all this a month or two ago and trying to decide what games I should come into St. Louis and watch was a hard one and I think I made the right decision. I was going to try and make a game in the Atlanta series, thinking it would be division leaders going against each other. That would have been a good series to come to. Instead, I delayed my vacation a couple weeks, and now we’re coming in to see the first game of the Pirates series at Busch. It will be an important game, and I’m excited to see it.

    • Cardinal70 August 30, 2013, 2:06 pm

      Should be a big one. Personally, I almost got tickets to the Mariners series just because my son is a big Felix Hernandez fan, but decided not too. These next two weekends are huge, though!

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