Our lovely and talented sponsors (look up) are interested in hearing about how the St. Louis Cardinals (among other contenders) are charged for the postseason. I think it's an interesting question--but I think that, in 2012, it's more that the postseason is charged for the Cardinals. The changes in format, awkwardly timed as they might have been after one of the most exciting September finishes in memory, have come just in time for the Cardinals to chase after one of the newly opened spots.
Okay, okay: I can't stop talking about the second Wild Card. Since the chances the Cardinals run eight games up on the Reds seem increasingly remote, that's probably not a bad thing. But here's the other reason I find myself increasingly fascinated by the one-game play-in the Cardinals look to be chasing: There's a non-zero chance it would end the season, in a manner almost impossibly abrupt in previous playoff formats, on the note of the awful these-inconsistent-bums narrative that's been visited upon this team inconsistently all through August.
That's the bad news. The good news is that, inasmuch as any team can be ready for a one-game coin-toss, the Cardinals have a lot going for them.For one thing, I'll hold onto this until the bitter end: These Cardinals are better than they've been. Rafael Furcal's injury and Lance Berkman's inability to stand anywhere but on a base have made deep cuts into the Cardinals' depth, such as it was, but this remains a startlingly great offense.
In a one-game play-in, of course, anyone can and will beat anyone else. So if I had to pick a single reason for believing the Cardinals charged for their likely postseason station in life, it's this: None of their starters suck. This isn't quite 2004's perfectly steady, perfectly healthy rotation, but the Cardinals have a chance to go into the play-in game with all five members of their starting rotation carrying an ERA+ at or above 100.
That's not the kind of thing that sells t-shirts in a decade that's seen Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt in the rotation all at once, but in a format where a team could push all season long only to discover it's up to Kip Wells to push them into series play, having to choose between Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn for the fifth spot in a rotation has its advantages.