Here we are, the final weekend of the regular season. The Cardinals are playing in the postseason — this much we know. So are the Pirates.
What we don’t yet know, unfortunately: the National League Central champion.
The standings tell the story — and the Cardinals, to be trite, control their destiny. That’s been the case since we started counting down the magic number to win the Central. Just keep winning and there’s nothing to worry about.
Except they haven’t won as much as we would like. Since last Saturday, when their victory over the Reds and the Pirates loss to the Brewers gave the Cardinals a 3 1/2 game division lead and reduced the magic number to five, the Cards have lost three of four. The Pirates have won four of five.
Thus the one-game lead and magic number of three with just tonight, tomorrow and Sunday left to play.
The truth is that after the way the 2014 Cardinals season has gone through 159 games, no outcome of these final three games will be a surprise. A sweep of the worst-in-baseball Diamondbacks, who are 2-8 in their last 10 games? I easily can see it — the Cards did just that when the teams played at Busch back in May — and we should probably expect it, right? What do the D-backs have to play for at this stage?
Ah, but how often have this year’s Cardinals done what we expect? Sometimes, yes. But we were all certainly expecting more than just one win at Wrigley Field.
So even one loss in Arizona and the Cardinals are going to need a little help to win the division … from the Reds.
Yes, the Pirates’ final three are against the Reds, a team they’ve gone 6-10 against this season. The games are in Cincinnati and the pitching matchups are compelling: Vance Worley vs. Mike Leake tonight, Francisco Liriano vs. Alfredo Simon tomorrow and Gerrit Cole vs. Johnny Cueto, who’ll be going for his 20th win, on Sunday.
Could it actually come down to rooting for Johnny Cueto on Sunday in order for the Cards to win the division?
Dear baseball gods, let’s hope not. And the Cardinals starting with a win tonight — with Michael Wacha starting against Trevor Cahill — will do a lot to ease all of our minds.
Win all three and you’re in, Cards. It all sounds so simple.
Yet, as we are all so well aware, “simple” is not a word that we’d ever use to describe the 2014 season.
Which is why I won’t be surprised at all no matter what the final regular season results are once Sunday’s games are over.