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St. Louis Cardinals can't afford to lose any more games

A lot of folks have expressed concern with St. Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny's management style and decisions this season.

Many of the issues have to do with his use of players. And that angst has only been intensified when the Redbirds called up a bunch of young players when rosters expanded Sept. 1. But those troublesome moves are likely to change this weekend when the playoffs, effectively, start for St. Louis.

At least I hope so.

No more struggle over decision of choosing to give young players experience or troubled relievers innings as opposed to doing what's best to win the game today. No coddling, time sharing or playing nice. This is for real.

By losing two of three to the Chicago Cubs, the Cardinals have put themselves in a precarious position just one game ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the race for the National League Central Division championship. In short, the cliches about it being a long season and a marathon as opposed to a sprint are out the window. This is a three-game drag race and the Birds can't afford to lose any more games.

A loss tonight coupled with a Pirates win ties the race and likely puts the Cardinals in a spot where they will have to use ace Adam Wainwright on the last day of the season to avoid fumbling away a berth in a division series game and, instead, being forced to play in a wild card play-in game.

The value of the five-game series over a one-game coin flip is immeasurable.

While I've heard some people say that once you get past the wildcard game, it doesn't matter if you win the division or not, that's not exactly true. First, if the Cardinals have to use Wainwright on the last day of the season, they're going to have to use someone else to pitch in the wildcard game, making a win much less likely.

Then, if they make it past the wildcard game, they will have used their two best pitchers just to get to the real playoffs. Is it not going to be a disadvantage to have to play the rested Los Angeles Dodgers or the Washington Nationals using your third-best pitching option in the first game?

The only thing that can save the Cardinals at this point from messing up their playoff rotation is a win tonight over Arizona coupled with a Pirates loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Then if the Birds win or the Pirates lose Saturday, it will all be over, Wainwright can be preserved for Game One of the NLDS and I can finally take my doctor's orders to avoid stress.