Carlos Marmol Keeps Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Race

Carlos Marmol

It’s not often that an opposing pitcher gets credit for keepin a team’s playoff chances alive.

But that’s exactly the case this afternoon after Cubs closer Carlos Marmol turned what would have been a devastating blow to the Cardinals’ playoff chances into a glimmer of hope for the Redbirds.

A day after the Cubs helped the Milwaukee Brewers clinch the NL Central title by beating the Cardinals 5-1, Marmol yielded a one-out single to Matt Holliday before completely unraveling with two outs. After walking the bases loaded, he faced Ryan Theriot, an ex-Cub who doesn’t merit near the respect Marmol was showing by essentially pitching around him. Marmol couldn’t find the strike zone at all, walking Theriot to force in the game-tying run.

But the worst was yet to come.

Two pitches later, Marmol uncorked a wild pitch to Rafael Furcal that rattled around the backstop long enough for Adron Chambers to race home with the winning run. Certain victory turned into painful defeat in the most incredibly Cubs way possible. Around the same time, the Nationals were locking up a 4-1 victory over the current NL Wild Card-leading Atlanta Braves.

So what all does this mean? That the Cardinals still have a chance to catch the Braves. Not much of a chance, but there is a chance.

St. Louis has four games left, with one more against the Cubs tomorrow before finishing up the season with a three game set in Houston against the lowly Astros. At 87-71, they’re just two games back of the sliding Braves, who have gone 5-5 in their last ten.

The Cardinals also have a major schedule advantage over the next week as well. While the Redbirds get to feast on the dregs of the NL Central, Atlanta has to finish with one more game against the Nationals before heading home for a crucial three-game set against the NL East-champion Philadelphia Phillies, who are showing no signs of taking their foot off the gas pedal despite the fact that their playoff berth is secure.

Philadelphia is scheduled to trot out Cliff Lee and Vance Worley in the opener, with Roy Oswalt taking the finale. Lee (16-8, 2.38 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) and Worley (11-3, 3.00 ERA) have been two of the National League’s best pitchers this season and figure to give the Braves all they can handle. Atlanta needs to either win that series or pray for a Texas-sized miracle in Houston if they’re going to start selling playoff tickets at the Ted anytime soon.

And if the Cardinals pull off the unthinkable, making up a two-game deficit with four to play, it’s safe to say that Carlos Marmol should probably be receiving a playoff share as well as a fruit basket from Tony LaRussa around Christmas time.