St. Louis Cardinals in control of Wild Card playoff destiny

St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals’ Harrison Bader (48) celebrates with teammates after a baseball game against the New York Mets Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in New York. The Cardinals won 11-4. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

ST. LOUIS–Call it “Devil Magic”, “The Cardinal Way”, or whatever you’d like, but after an emotional and physically grueling roller coaster of a season, and entering play Thursday, this much is true for the St. Louis Cardinals: They are in control of their postseason destiny.

Wednesday’s 11-4 win over the New York Mets put the Cardinals a game ahead of the San Diego Padres and 1.5 games up on the Cincinnati Reds for sole possession of the second National League Wild Card with 17 games left. According to FanGraphs, the Cardinals have a 41.7 percent chance of making the playoffs, behind the Brewers (100 percent), Giants (already clinched berth), Dodgers (100 percent), and Braves (86.2 percent).

Absent a 17-game winning streak that would run the table into postseason play, how do the Cardinals fare compared to other teams still fighting for the Wild Card when it comes to what’s left of the schedule?

CARDINALS: They host the Padres for three, then also face the NL Central-leading Brewers seven times and the Cubs for seven. Just like they did with the Mets, St. Louis has a golden opportunity to put some distance between themselves and San Diego this weekend, the same weekend the franchise honors the 2011 World Series champions. The doubleheader against Chicago at Wrigley next Friday could be a big pothole. You’d probably rather not face a good Brewers team that many times, along with a Cubs outfit that would love to play spoiler, but better to be where you are, and not……

THE PADRES: The good news is the Cardinals aren’t in the Padres’ shoes. San Diego is having the kind of month St. Louis had in June, but at the worst possible time, going 10-21 over the Padres’ last 31 games. They’ve fired their pitching coach. They’ll come to Busch Stadium for a three-game series starting Friday. They lost ace pitcher Blake Snell to an abductor strain this week. After Busch Stadium, the Pads still have games against the Giants, Dodgers and NL East-leading Atlanta Braves. As the kids say, that’s a lot.

REDS: Strength of schedule-wise, it’s good to be Cincinnati. Yes, they have five games against two likely playoff teams in the Dodgers and White Sox, but a whopping total of 12 games split between lowly foes in Pittsburgh (7) and Washington (4). But there’s a reason why you play the games. One reason the Cardinals have been able to climb in the standings this week is that the Reds stubbed their toes on the Pirates. Check out how last night’s game ended.

PHILLIES: Philadelphia enter play Thursday three games back of the Cardinals, and 3.5 behind the Braves for the NL East lead. Schedule-wise, they have a similar road of foes as Cincinnati, with a not-exactly-murderer’s row of the Cubs, Orioles, Pirates, Marlins, Mets and Braves left.

METS: With the St. Louis series over, New York only has four games left against an opponent (Florida) with nothing left to play for, with the rest against Milwaukee (3), Boston (2), Atlanta (3), and Philadelphia (3). After the emotional finish to last week’s Subway Series against the Yankees, the Mets were swept by the Cardinals. They’re five games out of the Wild Card and 5.5 out of the NL East lead.

BRAVES: Atlanta is 3.5 games up on Philadelphia in the East lead. Thursday’s game against Colorado was postponed due to weather, which could loom large. They’ve got the Giants (3), Arizona (4), Padres (3), Phillies (3) and Mets (3) left. Injuries and off-field issues could have crippled Atlanta, who have lost Marcel Ozuna, Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Mike Soroka.

The Braves, Mets and Phillies will sort out the NL East, with two of the three who don’t take the division trying to stay in the Wild Card conversation. The Giants, Dodgers, and Brewers will be able to rest players down the stretch as needed, so lineups will not be created equal.

Atlanta’s ability to withstand all those injuries is a credit to the front office’s ability to restock the outfield at the trade deadline, and the closer we get to the end of the season, it’s hard not to see the Braves as one of those destiny-type teams in some capacity.

But an early caveat still holds true. You still have to play the games to find out.

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