Compared to Monday morning, the St. Louis Cardinals are in a really good place—and it's a place they're fortunate to be in. Backing a rookie pitcher with three hits on the road in an elimination game isn't a great way to win, most of the time, and it's only by virtue of Matt Holliday's well-known clutch virtues that they scored even the two runs they needed. This game constantly felt tenuous, even when it didn't necessarily need to—Mike Matheny's odd bullpen choices were eventually mitigated by the Pirates' even odder baserunning choices.
Compared to the end of the regular season... I never hope for a Game 5/7 at the start of a postseason series. If it has to happen it's good that it's happening at home, with Adam Wainwright on the mound, but the Cardinals lost both of the starts that Shelby Miller might have taken and their leadoff hitter, their most valuable player, has made 15 outs in 17 plate appearances. (They've also gotten two home runs and six RBI from Carlos Beltran, which I guess can be taken for granted at this point.)
Compared to midseason—well, it's hard to really isolate the point where the Cardinals became one of the obvious favorites of the National League. The Cardinals went four games over .500 in April, and 13 games over .500 in May, and then four games over .500 all summer. The Cardinals weren't exactly ready to use September as a test-run for Tyler Greene again, but they also didn't seem ready to go another nine games over .500 in their last 27 games, escaping the Wild Card pretty handily.
This is where I still am, honestly—just happy that the Cardinals' sudden-death game isn't in the Wild Card.
Compared to the Pirates, the Cardinals are just not very sympathetic. You've probably watched a game with a non-Cardinals-fan or two, or just read their own wishes and predictions about the series—they overwhelmingly prefer the Pirates, if they don't outright hate the Cardinals.
I don't blame them. Even leaving out the weird and terrifying fixation some people have on the idea that someone, somewhere, really think he's a Best Fan In Baseball and must be punished for it—the intense and unexamined hatred for flyover country—it's a simple calculation. You can enjoy the Cardinals' history, you can respect their organization, you can even be into the whole best-fans-in-baseball-midwest-nice thing like I am, but they've got a bunch of championships and they're in the postseason all the time, and the Pirates are one of the most continuously beaten-down franchises in baseball. The Cardinals got crucial hits out of Pete Kozma last year; who except for us wouldn't root for the Pirates?
You can go all the way back to Opening Day, then, and you'll find this: The Cardinals are a really good team with a great number-one starter. They'll have a loud, appreciative crowd at home and a loud, dismissive crowd elsewhere on the internet. It's because they're a really good team, and they have been this whole time. A really good team isn't a sure bet to win anything in baseball's precarious postseason, but if I had to condense their chances for advancement into one game I could do worse than the game the Cardinals are playing tomorrow: You go home, your best starter pitches against their best starter, and you see what happens.