The National League Wild Card race between the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals comes down to the final day of the regular season.
And the Cardinals are in position to secure a historic comeback to reach the postseason.
On Aug. 29, the Cardinals trailed the Braves by 9.5 games. While most of the national attention focused on the Boston Red Sox in their own collapse of historic proportions, the Cardinals quietly crept up the ladder of the NL Wild Card race.
Finally, Tuesday night, the Cardinals completed their comeback a day after the Tampa Bay Rays caught the Red Sox in the American League Wild Card race. All four teams go into their final respective games Wednesday tied, with two playoff berths on the line. Both the Cardinals and Rays are trying to become the first teams to overcome an eight-game deficit in September to reach the postseason.
Even later, on Sept. 10, the Cardinals still trailed by 5.5 games with 17 to play. On Tuesday, they trailed by five runs with six innings to play.
No problem. They scored five runs in the top of the fourth against the Houston Astros. And in the seventh, they rallied for four runs to overcome a 6-5 deficit. They won 13-6. Meanwhile, the Braves never stood a chance at home against the Philadelphia Phillies, who have long wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the National League Championship Series. They fell, 7-1.
Important note: In the event both teams remain tied after Wednesday's games, they will play a one-game playoff in St. Louis on Thursday at 8:07 p.m. ET.
With the momentum heavy on the Cardinals' side, here's a look at the final games for both the Cardinals and Braves on Wednesday:
CARDINALS (Chris Carpenter) at ASTROS (Brett Myers), 8:05 p.m. ET
The Cardinals send the pitcher they probably trust most to the mound in Carpenter, who has been lights out in his past four starts. He has pitched into the seventh inning in all four of those starts while giving up a combined five earned runs. But the Cardinals will face an Astros pitcher, Brett Myers, who has an equally impressive streak. He is 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his last five starts.
That task becomes tougher for the Cardinals when factoring in the loss of two of their most productive offensive weapons in the last two days. On Monday, shortstop Rafael Furcal left with hamstring tightness. On Tuesday, Matt Holliday left with discomfort in his right hand. Neither will start Wednesday, and Furcal has been ruled out.
Then again, no one thought Nick Punto would go 4-for-5 with a home run and two RBI. And then again, no one thought the Cardinals would be here in the first place. Not even their manager, Tony La Russa, after his team was swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in late August.
When I saw our schedule I said, 'We could finish under .500 if we don't start getting it back together,' La Russa told reporters after Tuesday's win. And we did.
PHILLIES (Joe Blanton) at BRAVES (Tim Hudson), 7:10 p.m. ET
The original plan was to save Hudson for the first game of the National League Division Series. Now, the Braves turn to their ace in an unexpected win-or-possibly-go-home game.
Blanton has pitched in four games and only started in one since returning from the disabled list, and he only pitched two innings in the game he started. This could become a matchup of Braves hitters vs. the Phillies bullpen quickly, which is good news for the Braves. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel likely will take the NLDS into consideration in choosing which members of his bullpen to use.
A bit of injury news for the Braves offense, as well: Shortstop Alex Gonzalez is doubtful for Wednesday's game, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In his last nine games, Gonzalez was batting .455 with three homers, five doubles and eight RBI.
Despite the injuries, both teams are in good shape here. Let's finish this thing off the right way: with both teams going head-to-head for that playoff spot on Thursday.