By: Doran Grieshaber, Sports Writer
With the MLB season dwindling down to its final few games, most playoff spots have been claimed. However, the National League Central has not quite been taken by the Chicago Cubs and the second NL Wild Card spot is a toss-up right now. With only seven games remaining and all seven games being against the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals go into the week knowing every game could have an effect on their chances of reaching the playoffs and could change the playoff landscape altogether. There are plenty of what-ifs to factor in at the moment, but the dream is still alive for playoff baseball in St. Louis.
As things currently stand, the Cubs have a five-and-a-half-game lead on the Brewers and a six-game lead on the Cardinals in the NL Central, making the elimination number for both teams two games. This also means the Cubs could clinch the division in their next series against St. Louis. The best hope for either team is the NL Wild Card, where the recent struggle of the Colorado Rockies has opened the door for a three-way race for that second Wild Card spot. The Rockies currently sit two games up on the Brewers and two and a half ahead of the Cards. The Rockies will split their last six games between the Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Dodgers, so they will need to take advantage of the series against Miami before facing the NL West Champions. The Brewers are in a similar situation, as they split their last six between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis.
Although the Cardinals did not help themselves this weekend by losing two out of three to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs helped to keep their hopes alive. Chicago took three out of four against the Brewers, which is currently the only reason Milwaukee has not pulled away in the standings. The Cardinals now have to play the Cubs themselves, and will need to win, or at least split, the four-game series to keep their playoff hopes alive. If Milwaukee loses the series to the Reds, the final series of the year will be the most important one either of these teams has played this season. The Rockies will have to play their part and not go on a last-second hot streak, but in this situation whoever wins the final series between the Brewers and Cardinals would punch their ticket to the playoffs.
If the Cardinals secure the second Wild Card slot, they would play the Arizona Diamondbacks on October fourth in Arizona for a single game to determine who will play the Dodgers in the NLDS. The game would likely feature two aces in Zach Grienke and Carlos Martinez. Things look good for the Cards if they can make it pass Arizona, as they have historically played very well in playoff appearances against the Dodgers in recent years and the Dodgers have hit a few rough patches in the second half of this season. While a lot of influence still sits with how the Rockies play against the Marlins and Dodgers, this could be a very stressful week to be a Cardinals fan.