The curse on the flip side of the miracle of 2011 for St. Louis Cardinals fans is that we’re all too aware of the fact that no lead is safe until the numbers say a comeback is impossible.
That being said, the Redbirds can firmly assume command of the driver’s seat in the National League playoff hunt by winning their weekend series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Bucs have been spoiling the St. Louis party all summer, remaining on the coattails of the local nine despite the Cardinals winning at a pace to finish with a top five win total in franchise history. A Team on a pace to win well over 100 games ought to be able to catch its breath in the last month of the season. But the Pirates haven’t allowed it.
As recently as last week, the Pirates pulled to within 3 1/2 games of the Cardinals with more than a month to play. But the last week has been pivotal. Pittsburgh has been a mediocre 5-5 while the Birds went 8-2 to stretch to 6 1/2 games ahead with 29 to play.
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It’s now time for the Cardinals to pull all the stops to deal Pittsburgh’s National League Central Division title aspirations a fatal blow.
If the Cardinals win two of the three games in this series, they’ll be 88-48, 7 1/2 games up with 26 left to play. If the Cardinals post a 13-13 record from that point, which would be -- by far -- their worst stretch of the season, Pittsburgh would have to go 21-6 to catch them.
The worst month of the season for St. Louis this year has been July when they were 15-12.
If the Cardinals post a modest 15-11 record, they’d finish the year at 103-59 and the Pirates would have to go 23-4 to tie.
The two teams have one more series, a three-game tilt in Pittsburgh on the schedule. So the Birds would have a say in that 23-4 mark, too. If they won one game of that series Pittsburgh could only afford two more losses all year.
I’d hope St. Louis could put together a strong finish. Besides two series left agaisnt the Pirates and Cubs, they have 14 games left with the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers. The Birds are 7-6 against the Pirates this year, 9-4 against the Cubs, 8-4 against the Reds and 8-4 against the Brew Crew.
Since the All-Star Game, the Cardinals are 30-14 for a .682 winning percentage, even better than their 56-33 mark before the break.
The bright side of having a strong contender in the division, preventing the Cardinals from a month-long party to conclude the season is that fact that St. Louis is forced to remain sharp.
In 2006 the Birds advanced their weakest championship team in franchise history to the World Series by playing desperately after backing into the playoffs. Meanwhile, their opponents with easier roads took their feet off their gas pedals and cruised into the post-season, unable to get their engines restarted when the games counted again.
So, the Cardinals have the best of all worlds: They’re in control of their destiny, playing good baseball at the right time and they’re getting healthy with reinforcements in the form of Matt Holliday, Randal Grichuk, Jon Jay and others on the way back to the active roster.