Tag:Playoff race: NL wild card
Posted on: September 28, 2011 11:40 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 11:49 pm

Playoff race: Cards are wild in NL

Craig Kimbrel

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Craig Kimbrel may end up being the National League Rookie of the Year, but the lasting image of the Braves' closer in 2011 may be his blown save in the final game of the season that capped an epic collapse by the Atlanta in the NL wild-card race, as Atlanta lost 4-3 to the Phillies in 13 innings on Wednesday. The loss, coupled with the Cardinals' 8-0 victory in Houston, has given the Cardinals the National League wild card.

The Braves went 9-18 in September, losing their last five games and nine of their last 12, but none as painful as Wednesday's collapse.

Atlanta led 3-1 in the third and held onto the lead until the ninth, when Kimbrel blew his eighth save of the year. Kimbrel allowed a hit and three walks, giving up the tying run on a sacrifice fly by Chase Utley. Kris Medlen got the Braves into extra innings, but Scott Linebrink gave up two hits and walked a batter, with Brian Schneider scoring on Hunter Pence's infield single in the 13th.

Meanwhile, St. Louis had little drama on Wednesday, scoring five runs in the first inning off of Astros starter Brett Myers and cruising to victory. The win was the Cardinals' fourth in their last five games and 16th in the month of September. They also won 23 of their final 32 games. The Cardinals trailed the Braves by 8.5 games after losing on Sept. 2, but were able to make up the difference over the last month.

Chris Carpenter threw a two-hit shutout for the Cardinals, who will face the Phillies in the National League Divisional Series, starting Saturday.

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Posted on: September 28, 2011 12:57 pm

On Deck: Wild cards hinge on final day

By Evan Brunell

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AL wild card: It's the final game of the season, and we've got two races currently tied. The first of them is the American League wild card, where the Red Sox and Rays are knotted at one apiece. Boston will send ace Jon Lester to the mound in the hopes of downing the Orioles. Lester has never lost against Baltimore, running up a 14-0 record. On the year, he has a solid 3.49 ERA but that mark is 6.97 over his last four starts, so there's concern there. He'll be opposed by Alfredo Simon. Meanwhile, down south, the Rays offer up their own ace in David Price to take down the Yankees. New York is already in the playoffs, so they could choose to rest some players and give the Rays a weaker opponent to play against. To that end, even the Yankees don't know who will be starting Wednesday night. Red Sox vs. Orioles, 7:00 p.m. ET | Yankees vs. Rays, 7:00 p.m. ET

NL wild card: Over in the NL, the Braves are new to this. The Red Sox have had an extra day to get used to the idea of falling into a tie, but Atlanta woke up Wednesday knowing the final game of the season was crucial to the playoff hunt. After all, if they lose and the Cardinals win, they're out. Fortunately, they have a pretty good pitcher heading to the hill in Tim Hudson, who will oppose Joe Blanton in what figures to be a bullpen game for Philly. On paper it's a mismatch, but the way the Braves has been playing lately is the complete opposite of St. Louis. Meanwhile, the scorching Redbirds offer up Chris Carpenter against the hapless Astros, who will send Brett Myers to the mound. Phillies vs. Braves, 7:00 p.m. ET | Cardinals vs. Astros, 8:00 p.m. ET

StrasburgNo walks: Stephen Strasburg has a very good chance to accomplish an incredible feat in his fifth and final start of the year. So far, he's walked absolutely zero batters in his 18 innings, striking out 14. That's a K/BB ratio of infinity. Thanks to the magic that is Baseball Reference's Play Index, I ran a query of all starting pitchers who had at least five consecutive starts with no walks in the millennium. There's been plenty of streaks of no walks allowed, most namely the amazing Greg Maddux who racked up two separate nine-game streaks of no walks allowed. If Strasburg gets through the game, he'll be tied with 15 others for five consecutive starts. Interestingly, Kevin Slowey accomplished the feat earlier this season, but before that you have to go back to Cliff Lee in 009, then Curt Schilling in 2006. Strasburg himself went six straight starts without a walk last season. He's opposing Chris Volstad in Jack McKeon's final game as Marlins manager. Nationals vs. Marlins, 4:10 p.m. ET

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Posted on: September 28, 2011 11:25 am

Who would have pitched in a Wild Card playoff?

By Evan Brunell

Major League Baseball will be changing its postseason structure either for the 2012 or 2013 season, adding one wild card per league. As a result, there will be a new playoff series of just one game, which we'll call the Wild Card Game, with both wild cards per league duking it out for a winner-take-all game for the right to advance to the division series.

If this change was in effect for 2011, both the Red Sox and Rays would have won the AL wild card, although the Angels would still have made things interesting. Over in the NL, the Cardinals and Braves would both have won the honors, with the Giants making a late run for it in September. So two collapses -- one each by Boston and Atlanta -- would effectively have been negated by this rule change. (That doesn't make the rule change bad; an extra one-game playoff is always fun and you don't know what teams would have done at the trade deadline with an extra potential postseason spot.)

The Red Sox would love to avoid a playoff game with Tampa and win the wild card outright. If there is a playoff game, then the Red Sox will be forced to start John Lackey in a winner-take-all game, which would not have been the case under the new rules. You see, Jon Lester is likely to pitch on three days rest this Wednesday to give Boston the best chance at winning the wild card. Under the new rules, though, Lester's start would not have been needed as Boston would have clinched a wild-card spot after Monday night's game. That means Bedard would have pitched Tuesday as he did and a warm body would have completed Boston's season on Wednesday, probably Tim Wakefield. That would have set Lester up for the Wild Card Game, working quite nicely in Boston's favor.

The Rays, for their part, would also have clinched a spot after Monday night, knocking the Angels out. The Rays could have opted to push Jeremy Hellickson, who started Tuesday against the Yankees, back to the Wild Card Game. It's far more likely, though, that David Price would have been pushed back to Thursday instead of drawing the ball on Wednesday. So the playoff game would have seen a Lester/Price battle. Instead, if there is a playoff game, we're looking at John Lackey and Jeff Niemann. Exciting!

In the National League, the Giants were eliminated on Sunday. That would have allowed the Cardinals and Braves, respectively, to reconsider their assignments of Jaime Garcia and Randall Delgado to the mound on Monday, respectively. Delgado certainly would have started, as he likely wouldn't have drawn the ball in the playoff game or the first couple games of the division series anyways. Garcia is a possibility, but with Chris Carpenter slated to go on Wednesday, he certainly would have been pushed back to the playoff game with Garcia starting on Monday in order to line up for the division series. Tuesday's starter in Jake Westbrook wouldn't have been considered for the start.

So who would the Braves have sent up against Carpenter if not Delgado? Derek Lowe? Nope -- he's in the midst of one his worst seasons, so would have started on Tuesday to ready for a Game 3 start in the division series. As we've seen, every team's Wednesday starter has so far fit the bill for a playoff game, and that holds true for Atlanta, as Tim Hudson would have drawn the start. So we're looking at a Carpenter/Hudson matchup. Not shabby at all.

Instead of both teams having to throw their best pitchers against other teams in a battle for the wild card, these pitchers would have gone up against each other in what would have promised to be an exciting day of Wild Card Games.

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Posted on: September 25, 2011 5:25 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 4:27 pm

Furcal bomb lifts Cards to one behind Braves


By Evan Brunell

Enter Rafael Furcal as hero, with the shortstop's solo blast in the bottom eighth sending the Cards to victory. After defeating the Cubs 3-2, St. Louis has now improbably trimmed Atlanta's wild-card lead to just one game after the Braves had a 10 1/2-game lead at one point in late August.

Furcal has been a major part of St. Louis' resurgence, although his time with the Cards got off to a shaky start thanks to poor production and injuries. But from August 31 coming into Sunday, Furcal was hitting .270/.343/.472, strong numbers. While Furcal isn't the only reason for St. Louis' 17-7 record in that timespan, he's certainly a big part of it.

The Braves... what else can be said, really? The Nationals have been hot in September, but the Braves couldn't even muster a run off of Ross Detwiler and Co., amassing just four hits. Just like the Red Sox, the Braves seem to be crumbling under the weight of a major collapse.

"We know what's at stake. We know what every game means," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez told the Associated Press prior to the game. "You've got to go out and play the game with some fun. We can't play with white knuckles on the bat and hold the ball so hard you can't throw it."

Atlanta Braves
Remaining schedule: 3 v. PHI
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 75.4 percent

St. Louis Cardinals
88-71, 1 GB
Remaining schedule: 3 @ HOU
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 24.6 percent

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Posted on: September 24, 2011 5:12 pm
Edited on: September 25, 2011 12:38 am

Playoff race: Cardinals receive a gift

Carlos Marmol

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Cubs closer Carlos Marmol hand-delivered an extension of the of the Cardinals' wild card hopes, giving St. Louis a 2-1 victory over the Cubs. Marmol walked three straight batters to force in the tying run and then allowed the winning run on a walk-off wild pitch. St. Louis' gift victory plus a Braves' loss in Washington cut the Braves' lead in the wild card race to two games with four left to play for both teams.

If the Cardinals win the rest of their four remaining games, the Braves would need to win two of their remaining four to force a playoff, but three wins would give them the wild card.

So, let's take a look at exactly where we stand:

Atlanta Braves
Remaining schedule: 1 @ WAS, 3 v. PHI
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 83.9 percent

St. Louis Cardinals
87-71, 2 GB
Remaining schedule: 1 v. CHC, 3 @ HOU
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 16.1 percent

The Giants were eliminated from playoff contention with their 15-2 loss to the Diamondbacks.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:13 am
Edited on: September 23, 2011 6:07 am

Playoff race: Cards miss chance to narrow deficit

By Evan Brunell

Like the Red Sox, the Braves had an off-day on Thursday. They got to see the Giants slip to four games behind in the wild card race, which should be enough to close the books on their season. The Cardinals, meanwhile, missed a golden opportunity to see the Braves break out in hives. If the Cards had won, that meant that Friday could have seen a tie in the wild card standings based on Atlanta losing and St. Louis winning again.

Alas, the Cardinals imploded with a 8-6 loss after New York rallied for a run in the eighth and six in the ninth. If the Cards do end up missing the playoffs, it will be easy to point to this game as the backbreaker. St. Louis is now ensconced at two games behind as it begins a creampuff schedule for the rest of the year. St. Louis opposes the Cubs and Astros while the Braves have to claw their way through the streaking Nationals and vaunted Phillies.

If the Braves lose the wild card, they're going to be talked about as a team that collapsed. And rightfully so, given the Braves had a 10 1/2 game lead in late August, but don't overlook the schedule here. The Cardinals have an easy ride the rest of the way, and with every single game mattering these days, the schedule could have a major impact.

Atlanta Braves
Remaining schedule: 3 @ WAS, 3 v. PHI
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 74 percent

St. Louis Cardinals
86-69, 2 GB
Remaining schedule: 3 v. CHC, 3 @ HOU
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 23.8 percent

San Francisco Giants
84-72, 4 GB
Remaining schedule: 3 @ ARI, 3 v. COL
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 2.0 percent

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeonBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Fernando Salas sits in the dugout after being taken out of at baseball game during the ninth inning against the New York Mets Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011, in St. Louis. The Mets won 8-6. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Posted on: September 22, 2011 2:12 am

Playoff race: Vazquez trims Braves lead to 1 1/2


By Evan Brunell

The Braves couldn't solve Javier Vazquez on Tuesday, dropping a crucial game to the Cardinals in the NL wild card chase.

Vazquez has been on fire for the Marlins after starting the season with poor results. He's given up just one run in his last five starts, trimming his ERA to 3.77 and no longer looking washed up. Derek Lowe had a solid start of his own, but couldn't keep pace with Vazquez as the Braves dropped to 7-13 in their last 20 games. The Cardinals, meanwhile, rebounded from Tuesday's loss to take out the Mets and move just 1 1/2 games behind the Braves, and this is officially a race as the calendar flips its way toward October.

The Giants are only on the periphery of the wild card race, but they too won to push their own deficit to 3 1/2 games behind Atlanta. It's too little, too late for the defending World Series champions, although technically the odds still say they have a fighting chance. With a three-game set with Arizona upcoming, though, they will have a tougher go of it than St. Louis to overtake Atlanta, as the Cards have seven games left against teams with losing records. St. Louis will finish up its series with the Mets on Thursday before taking on the Cubs and then feasting on the Astros. The Braves, meanwhile, have to get past a Nats team that just warned the Phillies they will be competing for the division soon. Then, the Braves have to contend with the Phillies so there is all too real a possibility that Atlanta could fritter away a 10 1/2 game lead in the wild card chase in the span of a month.

Atlanta Braves
Remaining schedule: 3 @ WAS, 3 v. PHI
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 64.2 percent

St. Louis Cardinals
86-69, 1.5 GB
Remaining schedule: 1 v. NYM, 3 v. CHC, 3 @ HOU
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 34.6 percent

San Francisco Giants
84-71, 3.5 GB
Remaining schedule: 1 @ LAD, 3 @ ARI, 3 v. COL
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 0.9 percent

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeonBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 21, 2011 1:04 am
Edited on: September 21, 2011 1:06 am

Playoff race: Giants slip in wild card chase

By Evan Brunell

In the AL wild card chase, both the Rays and Red Sox lost, but Tampa Bay ended up losing ground in playoff odds because there is now one less game for the Rays to catch Boston.

A similar story evolved Tuesday night in the NL, except the two teams battling for the wild card both won. The Braves have been dropping like flies lately, frittering away a 10 1/2 game lead on August 25 and losing 12 of their last 18 before emerging victorious against the Marlins.

"Tonight was a big game," Braves catcher Brian McCann told the Associated Press. "There are always teams fighting for that playoff spot; that's why this time of year is the best time in sports. We sit at the top of the wild card. We've just got to continue to win games."

The Cardinals have to continue winning games too, if they hope to overtake Atlanta. Due to both teams winning, the Cards didn't gain any ground beyond the 2 1/2 game deficit entering the day, but with one less game to stun the Braves by taking the wild card, their chances took a hit. The Cards would seem to have an edge in their remaining schedule, but the Braves will be catching the Phillies in postseason preparation mode, so that could work in Atlanta's favor.

Meanwhile, the Giants' eight-game winning streak was snapped, which all but slams the door shut on their late bid for the wild card.

Atlanta Braves
Remaining schedule: 1 @ FLA, 3 @ WAS, 3 v. PHI
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 80 percent

St. Louis Cardinals
85-69, 2.5 GB
Remaining schedule: 2 v. NYM, 3 v. CHC, 3 @ HOU
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 17.9 percent

San Francisco Giants
83-71, 4.5 GB
Remaining schedule: 2 @ LAD, 3 @ ARI, 3 v. COL
Coolstandings.com expectancy of wild card: 1.8 percent

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeonBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Alex Gonzalez (2) is met by Jason Heyward, right, after hitting a solo home run in the second inning during a baseball game against the Florida Marlins in Miami, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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