Another Bump In The Road

After the Cards’ disappointing loss to the New York Mets Thursday, I wrote the following on my blog: “If the Cardinals win two of three in their next two series and the Braves lose two of three in theirs, the teams will meet in St. Louis for a one game playoff to determine the Wild Card winner.” What has changed, 24 hours and one more game back in the standings later? Nothing. The above scenario is still in play.

The Cardinals certainly are not making it easy on themselves. Friday night they had their ace on the mound, and needed a morale boost from a bounce back win. They wasted both opportunities. Two losses in a row when they can barely spare one is not the easiest path. Now they are three games back in the Wild Card race, and time is running out.

But there are still five games for the Cardinals to play. The Braves have five left as well. All things considered, both teams seem equally capable of winning them or losing them based on which squad shows up each night. The Braves have the advantage of the lead right now, but that could all but evaporate before the end of this weekend and they know it.

The Cardinals really are backed into a corner though, and the worst part is they don’t control their own fate. They haven’t for months. It’s an unfamiliar position for the franchise, really. They’ve always been the chased, not the chaser. None of the Tony LaRussa-managed playoff teams had to come from behind like this. Not that it matters in the grand scheme of things; wins are wins and the Cardinals need more of them. But it’s entirely possible that they could have won the last two games as well as the next five and still missed the playoffs. Now that’s a letdown.

Don’t forget that the variables haven’t changed either. The Braves still have a depleted rotation and a young, overworked bullpen. The Cardinals are still mostly healthy and may get Matt Holliday back this weekend as well. Whether it will be enough remains to be seen, of course. But the Cards definitely have no excuses. They will live or die with an intact roster. They will win or lose based on effort and execution alone. And they will have to do it against terrible teams, while the Braves still have to face a Phillies team looking to re-gain momentum heading into October.

Should the Cards not make the playoffs this year, some may look at these two recent losses as what cost the Redbirds their shot. It’s especially stinging that the Cardinals’ Achilles’ heels all year—questionable defense and a suspect bullpen—played prominent roles once again. But since that has been a year-long issue, take away any five of those bullpen losses or games lost on errors and the Cardinals are still in the hunt for the NL Central title, with the Wild Card likely being the consolation prize for either them or the Brewers. These last two losses were poorly timed, but if the Cards miss the 2011 postseason they were not the sole reason why.

Chris Reed also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter at @birdbrained.

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