The St. Louis Cardinals earned a ticket to this year's MLB playoffs last night. The Cardinals dropped their game to the Cincinnati Reds, 3-1, but the Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated a couple of hours later when they lost to the San Francisco Giants. Even with the loss, it would be inaccurate to say the Cardinals "backed" into the postseason. The team has won seven of its last ten and eleven of its last fifteen games. The Cardinals go back to the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons.
The teams for the National League playoffs are set, though the Reds and the Washington Nationals have yet to determine which team will finish with the best record in the league. The team with the best record in the NL this year will enjoy home field advantage through the World Series, compliments of the NL's win in this year's All-Star Game.
The Cardinals only bought themselves one day's rest, but here are three advantages manager Mike Matheny gained with last night's clinching.
Rest - I predict tonight's game will resemble a spring training affair, with lots of September call-ups getting to play. The regulars who do start will likely get two at-bats and then be pulled. The bullpen will also get two needed days off. If Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs or Jason Motte pitch, Matheny should be replaced immediately. At this time of year a common refrain in MLB clubhouses is, "Everyone is beat up this time of year." True, but the Cardinals have several players, notably Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, who will benefit from a couple days of rest.
Starting Pitching - The Cardinals would have been forced to start Adam Wainwright in tonight's game if they had not clinched a playoff spot last night. As it is, they have been able to slot Lohse, their most effective and consistent pitcher this year, to pitch against the Braves Friday night and hold Adam Wainwright for the first game of the Divisional Series, should St. Louis beat Atlanta. The new playoff structure was designed, in part, to give the division winners an advantage in setting their pitching for the playoffs. Tuesday's events helped the Cardinals do that, too.
No Outrageous Travel - If the Cardinals had indeed been caught by the Dodgers, a one-game play-in would have taken place Thursday night in Los Angeles. The winner then would have played the next night in Atlanta. As it stands, the Cardinals can take the short flight to Atlanta on Thursday and be rested and ready for the game Friday night. The possibility of flying across the country twice in three days would have put the Cards at a big disadvantage to the Braves.A native of St. Louis, Brad Boeker has rooted for the Cardinals his whole life.