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The Cards Come Home Looking for Some Breathing Room

homecoming-dresses.jpg
So, apparently this is actually a homecoming dress. (Cards coming home, homecoming, you see where I was going with this, right?) Um, I....do not remember high school being at all like what this dress appears to be suggesting. Just saying. 
So, yeah, the Cardinals suck on the road. I mean, like, really suck. Like, dude, they suck. Seriously. 

By the way, yes, that English degree is totally paying off for me in a big way. Totally. Like, awesomely big time. My degree is as sweet as the Birds are suck on the road. See how I tied that back in? That's what we in the business of professional writing like to call a callback. We get paid extra for that. 

Okay, so I don't have an English degree. I can barely speak English, to be honest, much less form cogent thoughts in print. And callbacks generally require more than two sentences between occurrences of the same joke in order to actually be considered callbacks. Putting them that close together is really just obnoxious. 

But, you know what? Not everything I just said was a complete falsehood. The St. Louis Cardinals of 2012 really do suck on the road. Really, really badly. Which is why it's such good news for the Redbirds to be back home. Crunch time is officially here, baseball fans, and the Cardinals need every little advantage they can get. 

The series in Los Angeles started so promisingly, too. Game one, out comes Lance Lynn firing on all cylinders, apparently having decided his sole purpose in life is to make certain local columnists look extremely foolish for questioning him. (For the record, I'm willing to look stupid all day long if the team keeps winning. Just FYI, guys.) With the news Clayton Kershaw would miss his start in the final game of the series, it appeared the Cardinals would be able to grab themselves some breathing room. Won the first game, had an extremely favorable matchup in the final; all they had to do was steal one of the two middle contests and the Dodgers would be in serious trouble. 

So what happened? Well, the same thing that has happened time and time again with this team this year: something went wrong. It's funny, but I don't even think of it as the team 'playing badly' anymore. It's just...something went wrong. I don't know why that is, but it almost feels at times like this team has virtually no control over, well, much of anything. It's such a puzzling -- not to mention frustrating -- feeling. 

In the case of games two and three against the Dodgers what Went Wrong was simple, and all too familiar: the bullpen blinked. Jason Motte gave away the third game, after the bullpen blew game two by committee. And just like that, the Cards were suddenly up against the wall, needing to win in extra innings in the final game of the set, trying to salvage a split and get out of LA with a Wild Card spot still in hand. 

The rather awful road trip the Redbirds just completed (2-5 against LA and San Diego, for those of you keeping score at home), leaves them with an overall road record for the season of 34-41. Sure, the plan for success is usually to clean up at home and tread water on the road, but seven games below .500 isn't exactly what I would call treading water. That's just slowly drowning in my book. 

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This is a really good record. Just in case you were wondering. 
The good news is, as bad as the Cards have been on the road, they've been even better in Busch Stadium, with a 43-29 season record playing at home. So, you know, .600 ball at home, .450 on the road. Sigh. 

So the good news is the Cards are at home beginning tonight. The bad news is it's only for three games before they head back out for the last road trip of the year. 

Good news: the three games at home are against the Houston Astros, the worst team in baseball this year. 

Further good news: the Redbirds swept the Astros in their most recent series against Houston. 

Bad news: before that series the Cards were just 3-3 against the 'Stros. 

Good news: of the Cards' final fifteen games, nine are against the Chicago Cubs and Astros, both of whom are just shockingly terrible teams. 

Bad news: the other six are against the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals, both of whom are good teams that have also just happened to have played well against the Cards this season. 

It's kind of a good news/bad news situation on down the line, really; the Cards will play their tougher opponents at home, which is good, but haven't played very well at all against the Cubs overall this year, struggling especially in Wrigley Field, which is bad. 

Here's the final piece of good news: the Dodgers are probably the only team with a realistic shot of catching the Cardinals. The Phillies, Brewers, and Pirates are all at least 2.5 games back, which doesn't sound like much until you remember there are only 15 games to go. It's certainly no sure thing, but if the Redbirds can outplay Los Angeles over the last two weeks of the season, they should -- should, I say! -- be alright. 

Actually, I take back what I just said. The final good piece of news is this: the Dodgers have a tougher schedule than the Cards the rest of the way. Both teams play the Reds for three and the Nationals for three, but while the Cardinals will welcome both opponents to Busch, the Dodgers have to play each on the road. That advantage alone could be enough to hold LA off. Each team also has six games against doormat teams; the Dodgers play the Padres and Rockies for three each. 

Here's the bottom line: the Cardinals are currently clinging on to a Wild Card slot by the very thinnest of margins. They have fifteen games left, nine of which are against bad clubs. There is absolutely no reason in the world the Birds can't go 9-6 over this final stretch of games. If they can, if they can get to, say, 86 wins for the season, I just don't think another team catches them. It certainly could happen, but the numbers are very much against it. 

I would say to strap yourselves in, because it could be a bumpy ride. But, let's face it, with the level of bumps this team has put its fans through in 2012, if you haven't already been strapped in for the past five months your brains have likely been bashed in against the roof by now. It's been a rough season to follow this team, to be honest. But with just fifteen games left, the Cardinals are still in the driver's seat in terms of grabbing a spot in the postseason. It's really hard to ask for much more, even if the road to late September hasn't been quite as smooth as most of us were hoping it would be back in those halcyon days of April. 

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