The St. Louis Cardinals clinch the division, mask their season-long issues

Dilip Vishwanat

Don't worry about it, Pete Kozma drew some walks.

Watching Friday, you'd have no idea the St. Louis Cardinals had any problems. The stuff that's been good all season was there—Matt Carpenter reached base three times, Yadier Molina drove in three runs, Trevor Rosenthal came in and struck out two in a non-save situation—and the stuff that's been fraught and weird all season, that was pretty good, too.

So Matt Holliday went 2-2 with two walks—his OPS+ is now a little higher than it was in 2012, and he's a bloop single away from hitting .300 for the first time since 2010. David Freese homered and walked. Jon Jay went 2-4 with a double. Lance Lynn struck out nine in six scoreless.

All teams get sleeker when they reach the postseason. Fifth starters are pruned, and 40-man roster experiments no longer show up in unfamiliar uniforms to pinch-hit for middle relievers, and the backup catcher and 12th pitcher can basically just wait hopefully for something terrible to not happen.

Far fewer teams than that are pulling their arms in and lowering their head and getting more aerodynamic on their way in. By September some very successful teams get to be shambling messes, so that it's hard to figure out which starter or catcher or vestigial limb they should even bother cutting off.

The 2013 Cardinals are not that team. They're 17-8 in September; they've got Yadier Molina back, and Matt Carpenter's hitting as well as ever, and Jon Jay and David Freese have slipped back into their role as Average Enough. Kevin Siegrist's ERA is still 0.47; despite Edward Mujica's struggles there's enough kicking around in the bullpen to keep us from constant seventh inning dread during the NLCS.

This is a very good team that comes into the postseason playing great.

But: The 2012 Cardinals finished the regular season 17-13, and then seemed to shamble inexorably toward the World Series, and then didn't; the 2011 Cardinals finished September 18-8, but still nearly lost the NLDS; the 2006 Cardinals were the shamblingest team in recent memory, 12-16 in September, and nevertheless did all the unusual things they did.

It's better to look great in September than not look great. It's better to have all the worst problems of a team sorted out in time to prune it back and enter it into the postseason. It's extremely better to be strong enough, down the stretch, to avoid the Wild Card game.

But this run will end in time for us to be worried about the postseason, however far they are into it. I'm going to enjoy it now—to enjoy, mostly, that the Cardinals will not have a play-in game—and then I'm going to go into full-on postseason anxiety mode. I hope you'll join me.

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