ST. LOUIS – We’re not quite halfway through the season, but the St. Louis Cardinals have some major work ahead if they hope for a Red October.
The Cardinals enter the weekend with the third-worst record in the National League at 26-37. They trail the Milwaukee Brewers by eight games for the NL Central division lead and the Pittsburgh Pirates by seven games for the closest Wild Card spot.
The slow start has the Cardinals in jeopardy of missing the postseason for the first time in five years. In recent years, the Cardinals have propelled themselves to postseason behind some late-season surges.
To some extent, that will likely be needed again. To what exact degree, it’s not quite known. But perhaps some recent team history and current MLB seeding scenarios could give the Cardinals an idea of the challenge ahead.
With less than 100 games remaining on schedule (99 to be exact), let’s do some Cardinals math around some possible paths to postseason.
Say the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers (34-29) perform to their current pace for the rest of the season. At their current pace, they would finish around 87-75.
In this case, the St. Louis Cardinals, in theory, would need to finish no worse than 62-37 in their next 99 games (or win close to two-thirds of their remaining games) to win the division.
Keep in mind, with the Cardinals in last place in the NL Central and still having some odds at postseason, so do the other division foes (Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates). This makes head-to-head division games even more important this season.
NL Wild Card
Say the third-place Wild Card-holding Pittsburgh Pirates (32-29), also very much in the NL Central race, perform to their current pace for the rest of the season. At their current pace, they would finish around 85-77.
In this case, the St. Louis Cardinals, in theory, would need to finish no worse than 60-39 in their next 99 games (or once again win close to two-thirds of their remaining games) to clinch their ticket to postseason on a Wild Card.
Keep in mind, many out-of-division teams, including the San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets, are also within striking distance of the third Wild Card spot and could shake things up substantially.
To match recent Cardinals history
In the Cardinals’ four consecutive playoff berths, they won at least 90 games in each of the full 162-game seasons and would have paced for around 84 wins in the odd 2020 pandemic-shortened seasons.
Add all of those totals together, the Cardinals averaged around 89.5 wins over the last four seasons. Let’s say that sets a precedent for 90 wins.
In this case, the St. Louis Cardinals, in theory, would need to finish no worse than 64-35 in their next 99 games. That’s even closer to the two-thirds benchmark than what would be needed at Milwaukee’s and Pittsburgh’s current paces for postseason spots.
Is .500 possible?
Even as the MLB postseason field has expanded in recent years, there has never been team that has finished a 162-game season at .500 or worse and still made playoffs. While it would be a bit odd to make history in that way, a few playoff squads have made it without faring much better.
The 2005 San Diego Padres won the NL West behind a record of 82-80, just two games above .500. Their .506 winning percentage is the worst ever for a team that has clinched postseason. And just the next year, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals snuck in with an 83-78 record, posting a .515 winning percentage that is the second-worst among a playoff team and lowest among an eventual World Series winner.
Given that MLB schedules now make it so that every team plays at least one series against each other, it’s possible a .500 or sub. 500 team could make playoffs if other divisions (like the AL East) feast on competition.
With that in mind, to finish .500 and maybe have a small chance at playoffs, the St. Louis Cardinals, in theory, would need to finish no worse than 55-44. That would call for winning around five in every nine games for the rest of the season.
During the Cardinals’ best three-week stretch of the season, from early-May to right around Memorial Day, the team fared 14-6 (.700 winning percentage). In all other games, the Cardinals have fared 12-31 (.279 winning percentage).
For the rest of the season, for the best chance at playoffs, they will have to find a balance between both stretches, but come closer to their recent surge in terms of winning percentage.
Of the four scenarios outlined above, the Cardinals will need to finish with somewhere between 55-65 more wins for the rest of the regular season to have a chance at postseason. That means anywhere from .555 to .650 from here on out, at a bare minimum, to enter the big dance. We’ll see.
The Cardinals open a six-game homestand against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday.