ST. LOUIS — In 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals were the hunters, stringing together late-season victories and capitalizing on a colossal meltdown by the Atlanta Braves to reach the playoffs.
The Cardinals, in the last three weeks, have been the hunted, working to collect enough wins to hold off the Los Angeles Dodgers for the final wild-card berth.
Players claim they don't notice the difference. In both instances, they've merely been feeding a hunger for victories.
"We're not trying to think about last year or anything," center fielder Jon Jay said. "We're just living in the moment right now. We control our own destiny, which is great for us.
"I don't think you enjoy it until, hopefully, like last year when you end the season with a ring. It's been a nice ride so far, but we're not done yet. We treat the whole season like that."
One major difference from last year is the Cardinals and the other wild-card winner, Atlanta, must meet in a one-game playoff to determine which team advances to the Division Series.
In years past, the one wild-card qualifier automatically was in the best-of-five Division Series.
"It's different with this one-game playoff looming over our heads if we get in there," infielder Daniel Descalso said. "It's a different scenario, but it is still the postseason and that's why you play 162 games --to get into the postseason and play into October."
Closer Jason Motte pointed out that under the former system, the Cardinals would merely be playing out the string.
"If it wasn't for this format, you guys wouldn't even be talking to us now," he cracked.
Chris Carpenter stalked through the clubhouse with a steely glare hours before the game Tuesday, apparently bent on ending the drama and uncertainty surrounding the Cardinals' playoff chase.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had seen it all before. He and Carpenter were teammates with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1999 and with the Cardinals from 2000-04.
"I know good enough to stay out of his way on pitching day. That's just good wisdom," Matheny said. "I love him that way. I love it when he's all squirrley and all fired up. Right now, he wants this game as bad as anybody could possibly want a game. That's part of the enjoyment of having him on the mound today."
Matheny saw Carpenter minutes before meeting with the media.
"In the lunchroom, he walked by me and looked like he would just as much slap you in the head as say hello," Matheny said.
Matheny said Carpenter became an extension of Pat Hentgen, another one of his former teammates in Toronto and St. Louis.
"He learned this from Pat Hentgen," Matheny said. "We were convinced Pat had multiple personalities. There was pre-pitching Pat, pitching Pat and post-pitching Pat, and the other two days he was normal.
"Carp kind of took on that same personality. The day before his start, he acted a certain way. The day of his start, you just stay away. The day afterwards had a lot to do with how the previous night went. Pat was huge in teaching Chris a lot of things."
Left-handed specialist Marc Rzepczynski remains a key part of the Cardinals' bullpen even though the team seems to have dwindling confidence in his ability.
Rzepczynski, who is 1-3 with a 4.27 ERA in 69 games, was bypassed for rookie Sam Freeman on Saturday against Washington.
Freeman walked left-handed-hitting Adam LaRoche to open the 10th inning, and LaRoche wound up scoring what the go-ahead run in the Nationals' 6-4 victory.
Entering Tuesday, Rzepczynski had not pitched since Wednesday.
"What Marc does bring is a lot of experience in this situation, from what was given to him last year, what he earned," Matheny said, pointing out Rzepczynski's playoff experience. "He came through big. He's had a couple of nice outings. We do need to get him going, but Sam's also throwing the ball well."
Will Rzepczynski make the playoff roster?
"We've got a couple of decisions to make when it comes down to that time because we're going to need them to step up," Matheny said of Rzepczynski and Freeman.