The last several years of watching St. Louis Cardinals baseball have been built around the postseason. When you’re right in the thick of a postseason run (and, in most cases, eventually reaching it to October baseball), this only makes sense. But on July 27, postseason baseball seems like a long shot. If the Cardinals sweep the Cubs, they still won’t be favorites. If they are swept by the Cubs, it will start to feel downright bleak.
The Cardinals probably aren’t going to extensively sell in the coming days, because they don’t really have a team structured for that, but philosophically, it would probably be the more sensible outlook. They enter this weekend’s three-game set against the Cubs at 51-51, and while they have been worse even in recent years, the layout of the NL postseason race has created a jammed field from which it would be very difficult for the teams near the back of the pack to emerge. Entering games played yesterday (yes, all of these numbers are out of date; no, I don’t care enough to change them), the fourth-place Cardinals had a 1% chance of winning the NL Central, according to Baseball Prospectus’s playoff odds, and a 8.3% chance of winning a Wild Card. Their odds of making it to the NLDS are about 5%.
The problem with publicly available, frequently cited playoff odds are that they force us to lose hope earlier than we might normally. Which isn’t to say that we are wrong to lose hope–mathematically, the numbers don’t lie, and while things like the 2011 Cardinals happen, raw data does a better job of telling an accurate story than the emotions of the moment. The result of these (basically accurate) probability models is that we turn into armchair fatalists.
This is fine, and arguably good, if you work on a front office. The Cardinals should, objectively, not be diverting big long-term pieces for the sake of a 2018 postseason run, because that postseason run is unlikely and would be unlikely even if the Cardinals somehow added Mike Trout into the lineup. But what good does it do fans of the Cardinals, or of any other team for that matter, to give up and accept the season as a lost cause?
I guess what it means is that you can do other things, and by all means, if you don’t feel like watching baseball this weekend, don’t worry about it. I say this as somebody who is not a bandwagon fan–I wish I were. It seems a lot easier and a lot more fun. But if you are going to watch the games, like, let’s just hope they win. Because it’s fun when your team wins.
It’s easy to get caught up in the future odds of a championship as the driving factor of sports fandom, but great sports moments don’t necessarily have to be a part of a title run. When the University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrivers became the first 16-seed to beat a 1-seed in the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament when they beat the Virginia Cavaliers by 20, virtually nobody, even after the undeniably great performance, had UMBC winning it all. They, expectedly, lost their next game. But in the moment, it was fun, and I will remember who won that game on that Friday night far longer than I remember who actually won the championship that season.
Remember the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, when the Boise State Broncos, on the strength of some of the craziest trick plays you will ever seen, upset the perennial powerhouse Oklahoma Sooners? This game, from a championship perspective, literally did not matter. It was, for all intents and purposes, a postseason exhibition game, and contractually, the championship for the season would be handed to the winner of the next week’s game between The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Florida Gators. But do you care that this game didn’t determine the national title game? Or do you care about the pandemonium of it all?
Context matters when we discuss sports, but it isn’t everything. Things can just be enjoyed. There are regular season baseball games within striking distance of the craziness of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, but they aren’t as crazy because they weren’t in the World Series. Fine. But that doesn’t mean they cannot or should not be enjoyed. If a game this weekend turns into Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, it won’t be as famous as Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, but I’m going to have sooooooo much fun watching it. And so should you.
Here are the pitching matchups this weekend, unless it turns out Cole Hamels gets thrown into to the rotation, which seems unlikely. If you were looking for a more nuanced look at the respective lineups of the teams, I covered that last week.
Friday, 7:15 pm: Mike Montgomery (3-3, 3.73 ERA) vs. Luke Weaver (5-9, 4.79 ERA)
Saturday, 3:05 pm: Jose Quintana (9-6, 3.87 ERA) vs. Miles Mikolas (10-3, 2.82 ERA)
Sunday, 7:00 pm: Kyle Hendricks (6-9, 4.05 ERA) vs. John Gant (3-3, 3.44 ERA)