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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, August 27, 2012 at 11:58 AM

The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates begin a three-game series tonight with the knowledge that probably only one of them will make the playoffs…and possibly NEITHER of them will make the playoffs. Talk about do or die!

At the moment, a team from the NL East is in great shape to get one of the two Wildcard berths. Washington is a virtual lock for the playoffs according to all projections, and would be safe for a Wildcard if they choke their divisional lead. Atlanta had seemingly wrapped up at least a Wildcard last week before a couple of stumbles. But, they’re still in great shape given their current record and their remaining schedule.


That leaves ONE spot left for:

St. Louis


NL West Runner-Up

And, didn’t THAT storyline get interesting a few days ago when the Los Angeles Dodgers made immediate upgrades on their pennant race roster in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox? The Cards and Pirates aren’t just fighting with each other…but they’ll be dealing with either San Francisco or the LA Dodgers as well in this five week race for the last NL playoff berth.

That puts tremendous pressure on both NL Central teams as they square off in Pittsburgh these next three nights. The Pirates catch a bit of a break in that they were at home this past weekend while St. Louis was on the road at first place Cincinnati in a high pressure series. Can they use that to their advantage? The Pirates did take two of three in a recent road series in St. Louis (only to lose three straight games to the non-contending Padres!).

Let’s check out the probable pitching matchups for the three-game set:



St. Louis: Lohse (13-2, 2.61 ERA)

Pittsburgh: Burnett (15-4, 3.63 ERA)

Wow, combined records of 28-6! That’s a pitcher’s duel. Lohse obviously has the edge in terms of ERA. And, we’re not dealing with any park effects with these teams that would pollute those numbers. Lohse may not be overpowering…but he knows how to get people out and has been doing a great job of it all season. The stats suggest an edge to the Cards. The Under may deserve some thought as well if game conditions are helping the pitchers out any. Remember that pennant race baseball can reduce scoring because teams play for one run so often on offense, while managers fight for every out with their bullpen late in close games.


TUESDAY (televised to parts of the country on MLB Network)

St. Louis: Westbrook (13-9, 3.67 ERA)

Pittsburgh: McDonald (11-6, 3.73 ERA)

Westbrook is solid. McDonald has been in a slump lately after pitching like a Cy Young candidate for much of the year. So, those statlines may not paint the right picture. Westbrook is consistent. McDonald is falling like a rock and that 3.73 just happens to be the snapshot that’s taken as he plummets by your window! There’s still time for McDonald to get his bearings. And, amazingly, amidst this recent slump was a six-inning two-hit gem against these very Cardinals in St. Louis! That was his only good outing in his last eight! The Cards have to feel pretty good about their pitching matchups so far. Then they’ll cross their fingers that they get “slumping” McDonald rather than “Cy Young candidate” McDonald.


WEDNESDAY (in prime time on ESPN)

St. Louis: Kelly (4-5, 3.26 ERA)

Pittsburgh: Rodriguez (8-13, 4.01 ERA)

Rodriguez has also been in poor form of late. In fact, the reason Pittsburgh hasn’t already wrapped up a Wildcard is because McDonald fell apart and Rodriguez failed to thrive after coming over from Houston. Given prior form and the softness of the second half schedule, Pittsburgh should be about 20 games over .500 right now instead of where they’re sitting. Kelly will take over Lance Lynn’s spot in the rotation because of Lynn’s recent slump. Kelly had been a place-taker until Jaime Garcia returned. Garcia’s back…but Kelly’s been holding his own and has been rewarded. Given Wandy’s recent woes…the Cards look to have the pitching edge in all three of these big matchups.

That about sums up Pittsburgh’s Wildcard hopes right there. If they get quality work from here on out from McDonald and Rodriguez, a friendly schedule will put them in the postseason. If not, it’s just not going to happen. There’s too much quality in St. Louis and from the San Francisco-Los Angeles pairing out West to let the Pirates back their way in. Somebody’s going to WIN this last spot…and this vital three-game series will tell us a lot about who that’s likely to be.

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