The Cardinals have slogged their way back to the top of the National League Central Division standings.
But, despite what you may have heard about their weak schedule for the last three weeks of the season, this is no time for the Redbirds to take their foot off the gas.
The Cardinals are one bad game away from being in back in a tangled mess with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. And, since making the playoffs for a one-game wildcard winner-take-all coin flip isn't a suitable substitute for a full-fledged, five-game playoff series, the Birds don't have any margin for error.
Manager Mike Matheny and his squad must remember that the teams they face the rest of the year -- the Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs --all have significant hard feelings towards the Redbirds. So don't expect them to roll over and play dead to pave the way for St. Louis.
The Cardinals snuffed out the Brewers' postseason hopes in 2011. Beating the Brew Crew on its home field under highly-charged conditions didn't sit well with their players -- or the Milwaukee fans who have grown even more disgruntled with the defection of Prince Fielder through free agency and the embarrassment of Ryan Braun's performance-enhancing drug activity.
Knocking the Redbirds off their perch might go a long way for Brewers fans who are disappointed by a lousy 2013 season.
Washington is dangerous because the Nationals haven't yet been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Until they are, they're as dangerous as a wounded and cornered animal.
The Nats were expected to represent the National League in the World Series in 2013. So we know, despite the fact that they've underachieved, that they have the talent to be competitive with anyone. Plus they probably aren't too happy over the Cardinals' historic comeback in the 2011 division series that ended their dream season.
No explanation should be necessary of why the Cubs would love to be the team that knocks the Cardinals into the wildcard slot and ushers them to a quick playoff exit.
The Cubs have been frustrated by the Cardinals annually since about 1964 when the Redbirds dumped sore-armed starting pitcher Ernie Broglio on them for under-achieving outfielder Lou Brock.
The ultimate expression in baseball fan bitterness was witnessed outside of Busch Stadium during St. Louis' last three World Series appearances when Cubs fans, dressed in the full uniforms of their team, greeted fans of the Red Sox, Tigers and Rangers and wished them luck in defeating the Cardinals in the World Series.
The bottom line is that the Redbirds can look to no one but themselves to secure their spot as division champions. They need to play more like they did their last three games against the Pirates -- a dominating sweep -- than they did in the preceding road trip, losing two out of three to the Bucks and three out of four to the Reds.
I don't care about injuries to Allen Craig, Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal or anybody else. This isn't the time for excuses. This is the time when the veteran team that's been to the big dance before needs to play like it is capable, beating teams beneath it in the standings.
If that happens, it doesn't matter what the Reds or Pirates do.