You’ve heard about the legendary comeback. The Cardinals are 10.5 games behind the wildcard-leading Braves on August 24th, yet somehow clinch the wildcard and a postseason berth on the last game of the 2011 season. St. Louis carries this momentum to upsets over the NL-best Phillies and Brewers before defeating the Rangers in a classic 7-game World Series. Enjoy it. Reminisce about it.
Just don’t count on it happening again. St. Louis finds itself 4.5 games behind the NL Central-leading Reds and 3.5 games out of a second wildcard berth heading into a three-game set with the Brewers tonight. The Cardinals simply cannot afford to wait until September again to turn on the engines. Albert Pujols is in Anaheim, Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan are retired, and Chris Carpenter is done for the season. Jaime Garcia was just placed on the 60-day DL, Adam Wainwright has struggled in his return from elbow surgery, and the bullpen is a mess. This is not last year’s magical team and this is not last year. The margins are manageable and there are plenty of reasons for optimism: Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, and Carlos Beltran have been fantastic while Allen Craig has had a breakout year; Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn have exceeded all expectations; Lance Berkman is back, and Brian Fuentes has arrived. This is not to say that the Cardinals are finished – if anything, they are indisputably alive and kicking. However, if St. Louis waits until September once again, with a strong NL Central and five teams competing for two wild card spots, the Cardinals will be watching in October. Here’s to starting now.