|If Beltran, Holliday and company take care of business against bottom-feeders, the Cardinals should be fine. (Getty Images)|
The defending world champs are sputtering down the stretch. The Cardinals have lost 13 of their last 19 games, eight of their last 11. Despite that, the Cardinals have the ability to cruise into the playoffs, should they take care of business in their next nine games.
Considering the Dodgers and Pirates haven't played well during this stretch, either, the Cardinals have been able to get through this miserable stretch of play while holding onto their lead for the second wild-card spot. Still, the pack has been brought back into the race, as the Brewers are now only 2 1/2 games out, with the Phillies four out, the Diamondbacks 4 1/2 out and even the Padres linger at six out.
Knowing all this, it might appear that we're in for a huge final 2 1/2 weeks of games in the NL wild-card race. But, as mentioned above, if the Cardinals play like a playoff team, this potentially epic wild-card race will have amounted to little more than a mid-September tease.
Yes, the Astros just took three of four from the Phillies and, yes, the Cubs have won seven of their last nine -- but we're still talking about the teams with the two worst records in the majors. And this is whom the Cardinals play in their next nine games.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers will be going through a grueling, nine-game road trip against the Nationals, Reds and Padres -- and they will likely be doing so without Clayton Kershaw. The Brewers are facing a 10-game road trip against the Pirates, Nationals and Reds.
The Cardinals won't have anything given to them, and young teams like the Cubs and Astros surely love playing spoiler. But it's definitely a stretch that bodes well for St. Louis' chances of making the postseason. A worthy playoff team does something like win seven of nine and put some separation between itself and the other contenders in the standings. A pretender loses more than half the games and has a serious fight on its hands with only six games remaining.
Your move, Cardinals.