By this time next week, one of two things will have happened: 1) The NL Wild Card race will be decided (for the most part) OR 2) The NL Wild Card race will be an even bigger cluster f*** than it has already become. (Side note: HOW THE HELL DID THE ASTROS GET BACK IN THIS THING?????)
This week is critical. Over the next 6 or 7 days, the four Wild Card hopefuls (Cardinals, Brewers, Phillies, and Astros) will either make or break their season. Some go head to head, others face a key series or two, but nobody has anything resembling a cake walk. So, before tonight’s Cards/Cubs game kicks off, let’s get down to it…what are we looking at this week and what does it mean?
Milwaukee Brewers – The Brew Crew is leading the NL Wild Card race by a stifling 3 game margin, and before next Tuesday comes along, they’ll have to face their most threatening challenger head-on. After two games against the unpredictable Cincinnati Reds today and tomorrow, the “no rest for the weary” Brewers head to Philadelphia for a knuckle-whitening, four-game series against the slugging Phillies. The Phillies just so happen to be the team currently 3 games behind the Milwaukee Punks, and they have about as potent an offensive lineup as you’re going to find in the National League. By Monday’s end, we could have a new Wild Card leader in the senior league. Either way, 4 games against the Phillies IN Philadelphia is a good thing for Cardinals fans.
Philadelphia Phillies – Two games against Florida, then 4 against the Brewers…this week is huge for the Phillies. For me, they’re becoming more of an insurmountable obstacle than the Brewers. At 4-3 over their last 7 games, they’re not exactly threatening to run away with it, but that’s still better than the Brewers’ 2-6 record over their last 8 and the Cardinals’ 3-3 record over their last 6. And in the end, all you have to do is perform better than the teams behind you, right? Especially with the Phillies remaining schedule after this week (9 of 12 games against the Braves and Nationals). It sure would be great if Florida put a whuppin’ on them and the Reds stuck it to the Brewers – then, I could at least root for a split in the Brewers/Phillies series.
Houston Astros – Somehow…and I still don’t know how…the Astros are back in it and only a half game behind the Cards. Again, how the hell did this happen???? Well, however it happened, it’s bad. The ‘stros have a habit of finishing ungodly strong, and they are well on their way to that now. This week throws 3 games against the Pirates and 3 games against the Cubbies at our fellow WC hopefuls, but after this week, their remaining schedule is similar to the Phillies’ (9 of 12 against losing teams). The weekend series against the Cubs is going to be huge.
St. Louis Cardinals – It’s appropriate that the Cards’ chances come down to a 3 game series with the Cubs this week. We don’t need to sweep, but we do need to win this series. According to my overall plan in a previous post (For the Mildly Delusional…), the Cards need a 3-3 split with the Cubs in September…but that needs to start with a 2-1 showing in Busch this week. That allows us to go just 1-2 against the Cubs in Wrigley (where they are dominating) later this month and still be in plan. But perhaps more important than that, a 2-1 series victory over the Cubs this week could be just the shot in the arm this team needs to sprint through the finish line (and it may be the necessary “crutch” their morale needs to survive). Regardless of how the Cubs series turns out, however, the Pirates series over the weekend worries me. A bad showing against the Cubs and we could easily “pout” our way to a 1-2 season-ending defeat at the hands of the buccos. A great showing against the Cubs, and the Pirates series could easily turn into another trap series like we faced in Houston. We need to play this week strong to not only hold our position in the standings but gain ground on both the Phillies and Brewers while they beat each other to death over the weekend.
Who is the ‘X’ factor in this mess? The New York Mets. They currently hold a 1.5 game lead over the Phillies in the NL East, but they just received news that their lights-out closer Billy Wagner is out for the season. Couple that with the fact that they finish the season with 7 games against the Cubs and Marlins, and the Mets fan base has got to be feelin’ the foot steps. The Phillies could easily pass the Mets in the standings and throw the “other” New York baseball team into the Wild Card mix. Is that good or bad news for us? Who knows? But I can’t say I feel comfortable trying to chase down a team with Johan Santana and the Mighty Carlos Delgado on their roster.
Who is this month’s Biggest Loser? It’s gotta’ be the Chicago Cubs. The Cubbies are struggling to find pitching replacements for the wounded Harden and Zambrano, AND they have to balance the need to finish somewhat competitively in the regular season with the need to enter the post season with a dominating and refreshed pitching staff. Consider all of that…and THEN check out their remaining September schedule: 6 games against the Cardinals, 3 games against the Astros, 6 games against the Brewers, and 4 games against the Mets – 19 games in 20 days! Good Lord!!! I couldn’t have pieced together a tougher schedule for the Cubs this month if I tried (who are 3-7 in their last 10 games, by the way)!!! What does it all mean? It means the Cubs may very well drop the division and get thrown into the Wild Card mix themselves.
Bottom line:The Cards need to win this series…and because Waino pitched Sunday, they’ll have to do it without him. At this point, though, it doesn’t really matter. Everyone has to step up. Everyone has to pitch well. Everyone has to field well. Everyone has to hit well. This is it. This is the time. There are no other contingency plans. Win in September, or it’s over.
And, who knows…with Joel P’s tendency to lay down in front of the visiting team bus, is it possible that Carpenter could actually be given a start to try and save the season? Doubtful…but you never know.