The third wild card ruins the Cardinals' 2022.


Since the creation of baseball divisions in 1969, every division champion has not had to play in a wild-card game or series for an entire season…until 2022.

But yes, thanks to an expanded postseason field starting in 2022, the Cardinals become the first National League division champion to play in a wild-card series — again in a full season.

Therefore, the division champion did not even get a chance to play in the National League Division Series.

But in 2024, an expanded playoff setup could play a big role in this crucial season in St. Louis history.

Because from 2012 to 2021 (excluding the epidemic season), there are only two wild card teams in each league. They will face each other in a wild-card game, with the winner going to play the best division champion in the National League.

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Well, now every conference has a third wild-card team making the playoffs.

The 2024 Cardinals could be this playoff team.

I guess, Rob Manfred takes, Rob Manfred gives.

Now, through most of April, May and June, I didn't consider the Cards to be a playoff team. But 32-18 after Mother's Day changed the math. The fact that they did it without having to contend with multiple stars — and the fact that, yes, there's now a third wild-card team — I could see these guys playing in October .

The 47-42 Cards effectively became the second wild-card team on Sunday, a half-game ahead of San Diego (49-45). These two teams, plus the Diamondbacks, Mets and Giants, will compete for the final two wild-card spots throughout the summer.

By the way, if the Cards secure a third wild-card spot, they will become the third “Power Six” team to make the NL playoffs in an entire season, joining the 2022 Phillies and 2023 Diamondbacks. Ranking – These two teams are in the playoffs. Of course, it was the 2022 Phillies who beat the Cardinals at Busch Stadium and ultimately advanced to the World Series (but lost). In 2023, the Diamondbacks (84-78) lost the tiebreaker to the Marlins (84-78) to become the third wild-card team…and Arizona State ended up advancing to the World Series (and losing).

Okay, you can look at the 2024 Cardinals in two ways.

One of them is — hey, at least they're in the playoff mix, considering how bad they were earlier in the year (9 games below .500, for example).

The other one is – this is the St. Louis Cardinals, damn, they shouldn't be talking about the third wild-card spot; they should be talking about the division title.

Still, it's fair to agree that both are fair. Now, it could be even worse. So it's going to be an interesting ride – and always will be, thanks to some unlikely storylines. The ones that stand out to me include…







Cardinals vs. Braves

Cardinals' Alec Burleson is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after scoring in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, June 26, 2024, at Busch Stadium.


Christian Gooden, post-dispatch


The rise of Alec Burleson. He rarely strikes out (even with swings and errors compared to league average). He's also been great in baseball — the 25-year-old leads the Cardinals in slugging percentage (.455) and OPS (.773). His arm strength may not be at the level of Jay Buhner, but he's in the 78th percentile according to Baseball Savant.

Oh, and no player in the National League has more RBIs than Burleson (17) since June 22.

Close the bullpen. It’s crazy that Giovanni Gallegos is underperforming and $5 million Kenan Middleton is injured, but the Cards have the sixth-best bullpen ERA in baseball (3.43) . MLB saves leader Ryan Helsley (31) was named to the All-Star team for the second time on Sunday. According to TeamRankings.com, JoJo Romero (26) and Andrew Kittredge (24) are ranked first and third respectively.

Ryan Fernandez is an excellent addition — and that's thanks to management grabbing the former Red Sox minor leaguer. There are plenty of other relievers carving up hitters and gobbling up innings to keep the season going.

Win close ones. Not only have the Cardinals played the second-most “close” games (decided by three points or less), but St. Louis has also won the most (38-25) and has the second-highest winning percentage ( 0.603). And in the past 11 oneThe Cards won eight of those games.

OK There are still some very compelling storylines this summer that show the Cardinals' vulnerability. For example, their run differential remains negative. The Cards currently rank 12th in MLB in winning percentage, but 22nd in run differential (minus-39). This stat usually catches up with the team at the end of the season.

As you've often read on these pages, the Cards weren't blessed with the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Nolan Gorman and, of course, minor leaguer Jordan Walker Too many offenses (although Team Nolan has turned up the heat on their current road trip).

St. Louis ranks fifth in baseball in batting average and has runners in scoring position. And the second-worst OPS.

But with that said, the Cardinals are still in the wild-card mix.

If anything, they should be buyers before the deadline and should be in the running in September. The season was saved.

The third wild card spot could prove to be the difference.


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