The spectrum of what Tuesday could hold for the St. Louis Cardinals is amazing.
In their own hands, the Cardinals have the possibility of closing out their National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at home.
All they have to do is win against the best pitcher in the National League, Clayton Kershaw.
Against any other team, that would be nearly an impossible task. But the Redbirds seem to have Kershaw's number -- especially when it comes to playoff games. St. Louis whipped Kershaw with one huge inning in Game 1 of the current series. They also pounded him with two big innings to end the National League Championship Series last year at Busch Stadium.
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It will likely play into the Cardinals batters' favor that Kershaw will be pitching on short rest. If they can be patient with the dominant lefty and wear him down, they hopefully can punch through in the middle innings and get into the Los Angeles bullpen. It's a formula that has worked in both the Birds' NLDS victories so far.
So, in one hand the Redbirds have a golden opportunity. But in the other lurks disaster.
If St. Louis can't beat Kershaw at home, the Cardinals will lose momentum in the series and will have to travel all the way back to Los Angeles to face another dominant pitcher, Zack Greinke.
Out of the Redbirds' control is the outcome of the National League Division Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Washington Nationals.
If the Giants win today -- and the Cardinals can manage to close out the Dodgers -- St. Louis would suddenly go from an overlooked team in the 2014 postseason to sitting in the catbird's seat.
If the wildcards from San Francisco beat the Nationals the Cardinals will not only avoid facing the team with the best record in the Senior Circuit this season -- not to mention Washington's powerful pitching -- they'll seize home field advantage in the NLCS.
The Giants, obviously, are no slouch if they can beat the Nationals. But I'd feel much better about the Cardinals' chances of qualifying for a 20th World Series if they were able to have the home field advantage. They typically play much better at Busch Stadium than on the road.
The Redbirds were the team with the least home runs in the National League bracket of the playoffs. But, like in 2006 and 2011, they managed to get hot at the right time and have used the long ball to scrape together enough offense to win in the playoffs. Also encouraging is the fact that imported starting pitcher John Lackey performed precisely as the Cardinals need him to once the playoffs started. A pitcher who closed out World Series for the Anaheim Angels in 2002 and the Boston Red Sox in 2013 proved he still has his big game mojo working and held a powerful Dodgers offense to one run over seven innings.
If Adam Wainwright can bounce back from a sub-par start in Game 1 of the NLDS, the Cardinals ought to have as powerful a 1-2 punch as anyone in the post season.
A big question mark Tuesday will involve how enigmatic starting pitcher Shelby Miller performs under pressure. But the Cardinals can pull out all the stops with a fresh Michael Wacha lurking in the bullpen and a day off Wednesday to get relievers a day of rest.