It's after game 114, and let's take a look back at where Tony LaRussa Cardinals teams have stood at this point in the season:
Game 114 Final Finish
1996 61-53 88-74 27-21
1997 52-62 73-89 21-27
1998 54-60 83-79 29-19
1999 57-57 75-86 18-29
2000 62-52 95-67 33-15
2001 59-55 93-69 34-14
2002 65-52 97-65 32-13
2003 59-55 85-77 26-22
2004 75-39 105-57 30-18
2005 73-41 100-62 27-21
2006 62-52 83-78 21-35
2007 54-60 78-84 24-24
2008 62-52 ?????
The Cardinals were able to play above .500 to close out the season in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, finished out playing .500 baseball in 2007 and below .500 in 1997, 1999, and the magical 2006 season.
As we stand, the Cardinals seasons rank as far as wins after 114 games as follows:
2004 - 75
2005 - 73
2002 - 65
2008 - 62*
2006 - 62*
2000 - 62*
1996 - 61
2003 - 59
2001 - 59
1999 - 57
2007 - 54
1998 - 54
1997 - 52
So, as we stand today, this is tied for the 4th best season under Tony LaRussa's reign.
Now, flash forward to the present. We stand behind the Chicago Cubs for the National League division and the Milwaukee Brewers for the Wild Card.
The Chicago Cubs are on pace for 97 wins.
The Shirt-untuckers are on pace for 90 wins.
For the St. Louis Cardinals to finish ahead of the Cubs for the division lead, they would have to go (theortically) 36-12 from this day forward. That would statistically be the best finish to a season the Cardinals have played under LaRussa.
For the St. Louis Cardinals to finish ahead of the the Brewers (which season series says they have to) for the Wild Card lead, they would have to go (theortically) 29-19. That would be the fifth best finish to a season the Cardinals have played under LaRussa.
The 5 better closes? 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004.
What was unique about each of those seasons?
1998 - Nothing really in particular. The Cardinals acquired Fernando Tatis at the deadline, who chipped in 8 HRs and 28 runs scored. They also called up J.D. Drew who was WHITE HOT, hitting .417 with 5 HRs in just 40 some plate appearances.
2000 - To replace an injured slugger,
Traded Jose Leon to the Baltimore Orioles. Received Will Clark and cash.
Will the Thrill was mind blowing. He hit 12 HRs, scored 29 games and hit .345 filling in for the injured Mark McGwire.
2001 - To bolster a shaky rotation:
Traded Ray Lankford and cash to the San Diego Padres. Received Woody Williams.
Woody Williams came in, went 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA.
2002 - Two moves that defined a team that should have won a World's Title.
To replace a fallen starter:
Traded a player to be named later and Luis Alfonso Garcia (minors) to the Cleveland Indians. Received Chuck Finley. The St. Louis Cardinals sent Coco Crisp (August 7, 2002) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.
To replace the awful bat of Tino Martinez:
Traded Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Scott Rolen, Doug Nickle, and cash.
Rolen was ungodly, 14 HRs, 37 runs scored in 55 games. Finley replaced Kile following his death by giving almost identical production in the rotation.
2004 - This juggernaut of a team didn't sit still and made a waiver wire move under the radar:
Traded players to be named later and Jason Burch (minors) to the Colorado Rockies. Received Larry Walker. The St. Louis Cardinals sent Luis Martinez (August 11, 2004) and Chris Narveson (August 11, 2004) to the Colorado Rockies to complete the trade.
Walker, still an extremely talented hitter hit 11 HR, 29 runs in 44 games and sparked a Cardinals team that would lose it's ace (Carpenter) to an arm injury to not miss a beat.
So, obviously, you can see what I'm saying here:
1998 - Acquired Fernando Tatis, called up J.D. Drew. Mark McGwire was insane.
2000 - Acquired Will Clark.
2001 - Acquired Woody Williams.
2002 - Acquired Chuck Finley and Scott Rolen.
2004 - Acquired Larry Walker.
The Cardinals got a 'spark' in each of those seasons to help push them to the finish. Of course, this is a simplistic way of looking at it. The Cubs or Brewers could have an epic collapse. The Marlins and Phillies could catch fire and win 94 games each.
But, for the Cardinals to do anything to really increase their chances of winning...they'll have to do something as far as the roster. They can't continue to carry 3 light hitting MIF. The rotation is a starter short, the bullpen is 2 relievers (at minimum) short.
Now, I've been a big proponent of cashing in the chips and trying to get value for the commodities that won't be returning next year.
However, Mozeliak does not appear willing to do that. If that is the case, then it is unfair to this team and unfair to the fans to not make even smaller moves to patch the holes the team has.
Does that mean giving up on the future to try and win now? No. Look at the names, Tatis, Williams, Rolen, Walker. They played multiple seasons with the Cardinals and helped them win more than just in August and September of the year they were acquired. Finley and Clark both retired at the end of that season. Is there a Finley or Clark out there somewhere for the Cardinals? What about a guy that can become an imporant part of the team for the next 4 to 5 years?
The problem Mo has? The trade deadline has past. Now he has to try to find waiver wire deals or free agents (*cough Barry Bonds cough*).
Anyways, end of history lesson. Is it impossible for the Cardinals to make the playoffs? No. Is it likely they can make the playoffs as currently constructed? No. If they make a deal to improve the team? History seems to think so. People want to compare this to the 2003 season, and rightfully so. The bullpen was an awful mess that season. The Cardinals, similiarly, were inactive at the deadline. The final result was coming up 2 games short of the playoffs.