MLB

How Will the St. Louis Cardinals Playing Just 58 Games Affect the National League Playoff Picture?

Going into the abbreviated 60-game season, every team in Major League Baseball knew that the 2020 campaign would be a little crazy. But the St. Louis Cardinals certainly couldn’t have envisioned just how crazy it would really be.

Due to 10 players and eight staff members testing positive for COVID-19 in roughly a two-week period following the team’s fifth game of the season on July 29, an outbreak that nearly got the team shut down for the year, the Cardinals were forced to completely overhaul their schedule in an effort to get in as many games as possible.

The Redbirds have played nine doubleheaders since resuming play on August 15 and still have one more scheduled on Friday at Busch Stadium against the Milwaukee Brewers. They’ve been the home team at Wrigley Field against the Cubs and PNC Park against the Pirates and will be the road team in their own building in the first game of their double-dip against the Brewers on Friday.

But even with all of that, the Cardinals will have played just 58 games when the season comes to a close on Sunday. During the team’s COVID-19 outbreak, a two-game series in Detroit against the Tigers was postponed, rescheduled, rearranged, and then ultimately dropped from the schedule as the league felt that 58 games would be enough. But with the Cardinals battling with numerous teams in the National League for a playoff spot, those two games may have to be played as a doubleheader on Monday to determine the NL postseason bracket. But there’s also a chance that St. Louis will only have to play one of those games. And there’s also a chance that those games won’t have to be played at all.

Confused? Let’s walk through this together, shall we?

Where do the St. Louis Cardinals currently stand?

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Heading into Wednesday night’s game with the Kansas City Royals, the St. Louis Cardinals own a 27-25 record and sit in second place in the NL Central, 3.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs, who clinched a playoff berth on Tuesday night. The Cubs have just five games remaining and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll relinquish the division lead before Sunday. But it is the Cubs so you just never know.

So if the season were to end today, the Cardinals would be in the playoffs as every second-place team is guaranteed a spot in the postseason with the expanded format for the 2020 season. St. Louis currently holds the five seed as they have a half-game lead on the Miami Marlins, who are in second place in the NL East. The Cards hold just a one-game lead over both the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, who will play one another on Wednesday night in the rubber match of a three-game set, and currently hold the final two postseason spots in the National League. The San Francisco Giants are also at .500 but would be on the outside looking in at the moment due to tiebreakers.

Assuming the Cubs win the NL Central, it’s impossible for the Cardinals to be seeded higher than fifth in the NL bracket as it’s mathematically impossible for them to catch the San Diego Padres, who are already locked into the fourth seed as the second-place team with the best record.

Following Wednesday night’s game with the Royals, the Cardinals will then play five games against the Brewers from Thursday to Sunday, including the aforementioned doubleheader on Friday.

Good so far? Okay, let’s move on.

The Redbirds will only have to play in Detroit if one or both of those games would determine a playoff team

So let’s say that we get to Sunday night and the St. Louis Cardinals and the two games against Detroit have no bearing on the playoff picture. Well, that’s simple. The games just wouldn’t be played and winning percentage would be used to set the National League postseason bracket.

However, if one or both of those games against the Tigers could determine whether or not the Cardinals or any other team is in or out of the playoffs, St. Louis will be in Detroit. Whether it’s one game played or two will be determined by the standings at the time. If the Cardinals get swept by the Brewers and are three games back of a playoff spot after Sunday, there will obviously be no need to play those games. But if a Cardinals loss or two means that the Brewers, Reds, Giants, or even the Phillies could get in, one or both of those games will take place.

However, if all eight playoff teams in the National League are set on Sunday and the games against the Tigers could determine seeding, they will not happen. In that scenario, winning percentages and/or tiebreakers would be used to determine the bracket.

And speaking of tiebreakers…

What happens if the Cardinals, Reds, and Brewers tie for second place in the NL Central?

St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals logo | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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So let’s say that after 58, 59, or 60 games that the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Cincinnati Reds are all tied for second place in the National League Central. Then what happens?

In that scenario, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head record. The Cardinals were 6-4 against the Reds this season, which is obviously good for St Louis, and are 2-3 against the Brewers going into the critical five-game series on Thursday. The second tiebreaker is a team’s overall division record. If those turn out to be even, the third tiebreaker is the division record over the previous 20 games.

So what this all basically boils down to is that the St. Louis Cardinals need to win as many games as possible, especially against the Brewers as those head-to-head and division records could easily come into play. If the Cardinals can win four of six between now and Sunday to get to 31 wins, they’ll likely be in good shape and wouldn’t have to travel to Detroit. But this is baseball and, as we all know, anything can happen.

2020 has already been a crazy season for the St. Louis Cardinals. So what’s a few more days, right?

All standings and schedules courtesy of MLB.com