At the beginning of September, the competition for the NL's second wild-card spot was a dogfight between the Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres.
Then the St. Louis Cardinals burst through the standings like a deranged Kool-Aid Man.
The hottest team in baseball extended their winning streak to 17 games on Tuesday with a 6-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, improving their record to 88-69 and clinching the second wild-card spot in the NL playoffs.
Cardinals clinch a playoff spot with their 17th straight win 👀🔥pic.twitter.com/yNzVMIBeMi
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) September 29, 2021
Clinching a wild-card spot caps a stunning rise for the Cardinals, who were 3.5 games back from the Padres the day their winning streak began. Since then, the Padres have faceplanted with a 3-12 record while the Reds have gone 7-9.
Over the course of their winning streak, the Cardinals have led the league in both runs scored and ERA. Their best hitters have caught fire at the best possible time, as Paul Goldschmidt was hitting .383/.472/.850 over the streak entering Tuesday while Nolan Arenado was hitting .281/.364/.561. Harrison Bader (.400/.429/.750) and Tyler O'Neill (.313/.357/.672) have both also been mashing.
Pretty good for a team that had a playoff odds of 2.8 percent on Sept. 7th, per MLB.com's Sarah Langs.
Only five games remain in the season, so we'll have to see if the Cardinals can run the table. The remainder of their schedule is composed of this series against the division champion Brewers and a three-game series against the moribund Cubs, so we should have a clearer picture in just two days.
All that's left now is find out whom the Cardinals will be facing in a winner-take-all game on Oct. 6.
Who will Cardinals face in NL wild-card game?
With the Cardinals clinching, the NL playoff field is almost set. The Brewers have clinched the Central while the Atlanta Braves hold a commanding 3.5 game lead in the East. The West remains the most competitive race in baseball, between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The winner of the NL West will become the No. 1 seed in the NL and face the wild-card winner, while the Brewers will face the Braves (or Philadelphia Philles).
Either the Giants or the Dodgers (likely the Dodgers at this point) would be a massive challenge for the Cardinals and the likely favorite in the wild-card game, even with the Cardinals' streak. The Dodgers in particular would be tough given the presence of one Max Scherzer, who struck out 13 Cardinals in eight innings while allowing one unearned run earlier this month.