As well as the Cardinals have played lately, it seems that the National League Central Division race is destined to go down to the wire.
Because the Cincinnati Reds are playing the Pittsburgh Pirates so much, it makes it impossible for the Cardinals to rapidly pull away from both teams at the same time. Even if the Redbirds sweep the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, one of their two pursuers is guaranteed to keep pace.
It's difficult to know which opponent to root for Sunday. If the Cardinals win and the Reds beat Pittsburgh it will give St. Louis the biggest cushion possible over both teams, three games. If the Cardinals lose and the Reds win both the Pirates and Cincinnati will be two games back.
If the Cardinals win and the Pirates beat Cincinnati, Pittsburgh would stay within striking distance at two games back. But the Reds would need a miracle to catch up four games with six games to play. If the Cardinals lose and the Pirates win, Pittsburgh would be back to within one game. But the Reds would still need a major dose of good fortune to win the division.
Complicating the matter is the fact that after the Birds wrap up in Milwaukee they'll come home to host the Washington Nationals, a club that still has a faint pulse in the wild card derby. The Nats are likely to be motivated to compete harder while they're still alive. So the quickest way to put them out of the picture would be for the Reds to beat the Pirates.
But... While the Cardinals move on to play a dangerous team from D.C., the Reds host the lowly New York Mets. So they've got a good chance to make up some ground over the last week of the season. Of course, the Bucs don't exactly play the '27 New York Yankees their last week. Before the Reds and Pirates meet again for their final series in Cincinnati, the Pirates head to Chicago to play the sad sack Cubs.
Even in terms of sentimentality, it's tough to decide to root for the Pirates or Reds.
The Redbirds have a recent unfriendly history against Cincinnati. And we know that the Reds skipper, Dusty Baker, is going to play his typical games if the Cardinals meet his club in the playoffs. But the Cardinals are 11-8 against Cincinnati while they have a losing 9-10 record against the Pirates.
Personally, after the 1-4 road trip to Pittsburgh earlier this season, I wouldn't mind a shot for the Cardinals to get a little revenge. And if you throw out the records and look at the rosters, I would be more concerned about the Reds than the Bucs.
Cincinnati has better starting pitching and a better back of the bullpen than Pittsburgh. It also has a more dynamic offense than the Pirates and the edge of previous playoff experience.
When it boils down to it, I could swallow the Pirates winning out better than I could handle the bully Reds -- who talk a good game but don't have any hardware to back it up (other than the trophy they bought and awarded themselves for winning the division last year) -- getting the credibility and accolades from winning the big prize.
Of course the only thing that REALLY matters is that the Cardinals keep on winning. Then no one can catch them.