The Cardinals can catch the Brewers and the Rockies. Oh yes they can.
This isn’t a largely futile endeavor, like trying to chase down the first-place Cubs, who through Monday had gone 32-17 since the All-Star break to open a five-game lead over the third-place Cardinals.
The Cardinals can hone in on a more reasonable and realistic challenge: grab the second National League wild card voucher, good for an admission pass into the NL postseason.
As of Tuesday morning, the playoffs were still an unlikely possibility. According to the FanGraphs Playoff Odds the Cardinals have a 17.8 percent chance of claiming the second wild-card spot, putting their chances about even with the Brewers (17.9%). The Rockies, however, are still listed as a 57.9% probability. But I don’t think it’s as improbable for St. Louis as it seems.
1. Colorado has been trending in the wrong direction since June 21. The Rox zoomed out to a fantastic start, shaping a superb 47-26 record in their first 73 games. But their climb stalled, and the Rockies were 26-38 in their last 64 games through Monday.
2. The Rockies’ pitching isn’t holding up. Their ERA over during this 26-38 slide is 5.23. And that includes a 5.61 rotation ERA that’s the worst in the NL since June 21.
3. The rotation attrition can’t be blamed on the offense-injected Coors Field. Over this 64-game time frame we’re looking at here, the Rockies’ starters actually have a better ERA at home (5.34) than on the road (5.99) … though the Rox relievers have been better away from Coors, with a road ERA of 4.17 since June 21.
4. Rockies closer Greg Holland has declined, dramatically, after a bulletproof beginning to the season. In his first 23 appearances Holland had a 1.09 ERA and averaged 12.04 strikeouts per 9 innings. His WHIP was an excellent 0.85. And home runs weren’t a factor; during those early weeks Holland gave up homers at a rate of only 0.36 per 9 innings. But in his last 27 appearances … ugh. Holland’s ERA is 6.48, his strikeout average has dropped, his WHIP has spiked (1.56) and homers are coming more frequently (1.8 per 9 IP.)
5. The Colorado offense is increasingly dependent on the Coors Effect. Since the All-Star break the Rockies have averaged 6.0 runs per game at Coors — and 3.8 runs on the road. That road scoring average in the second half ranks 12th among the league’s 15 teams.
5a. And with the road being such a significant factor for Rox, this is notable: After playing two games to conclude a home series against the Giants the Rockies will travel for 14 of the next 17 games. And eight of their next 14 road games will be played in Los Angeles (Dodger Stadium) and Arizona. The Rockies’ road record is 33-34 this season, but check this out: since June 11, they’re a woeful 9-24 away from Coors.
Of course, the Rockies are only a part of this equation. A big part, yes. But the Cardinals have had their own problems in trying to play consistently good baseball on the road … or anywhere, really. With three games remaining in their series at San Diego, the Cardinals are 5-2 on a 10-game road trip. And their starting pitching has settled down a bit after an unnerving stretch.
You may be a little surprised to know that the Cards’ 27-22 record (.551) since the All-Star break is tied for eighth-best in MLB, and tied for fourth-best in the NL. The Cardinals have a better second-half record than the Brewers (22-25) or the Rockies (21-25.)
Thanks to the Memphis rock n’ rollers who have brought some noise and funk to this offense, the Cardinals are second in the NL in runs per game (5.10) since the All-Star break, and rank third in onbase percentage (.348) and OPS (.794.) Since the All-Star break the Cardinals’ non-pitchers are No. 3 in MLB in park-adjusted runs created (115 wRC+) trailing only the Cubs (121) and the Orioles (119.)
Despite having to deal with so many pitching issues in recent weeks, the Cardinals are still No. 3 in the NL in run prevention during the second half, allowing 4.14 runs per game. The Cards’ arms must stay strong.
The Cardinals will have to play well to elbow their way past the Brewers and shove the Rockies out of the way. This team has duped us many times already. And if the Cardinals drift into another losing fog, I don’t think anyone will be startled.
Still, the Birds on the Bat have a chance for a wild card. That may be more about the Rockies’ cracking or the Brewers straining to score runs. The reason doesn’t really matter; the Cardinals have a shot at this.
Thanks for reading …