After clinching the No. 2 wild-card spot, the Cardinals are observing the usual practice of playing some exhibition games (I’m kidding) before revving up for the postseason. That’s OK. Some of the regulars could use a breather. Others need time to soothe their soreness.

Manager Mike Shildt can use the remaining games to get a more accurate read on Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson, two pitchers that recently returned from the IL.

Shildt managed an ideal game in Thursday’s 4-3 win over the Brewers. Shildt gave guys some rest, gave guys some work, brought some guys off the bench, and managed the bullpen to win. Well done. That’s 20 wins in the last 22 games for the Redbirds, who moved to 89 victories on the season.

But the low-pressure days can be good for one’s health. Fans have plenty of time to nurse hangovers and calm their emotions in the aftermath of the team’s historic 18-game winning streak.

I’ve already turned my attention to the wild-card picture.

Here’s a brief recap that shows us how the No. 2 wild-card teams from both leagues, 16 in all, fared in the postseason from 2012 through 2019.

(The usual wild-card format was not used in the pandemic-shortened 2020.)

No. 2 wild cards in the wild-card game: 9-7 record overall, 5-3 in the National League and 4-4 in the American League.

No. 2 wild cards in the division-series round: 3-6. All three winners were NL teams. The four No. 2 wild cards that advanced to the ALDS round went 0-4 there.The NL’s No. 2 wild cards went 3-2 in the division round.

No. 2 wild cards in the league championship series: 1-2. All three were NL teams. As mentioned, none of all four No. 2 wild-card teams that made it to the division failed to advance to the ALCS.

Does it matter if you’re the No. 1 wild-card team in the National League? Well, the 2019 Nationals were the only No. 1 wild-card team to win the World Series over the eight postseasons.

(In the American League, no team that qualified as the No. 1 wild card since 2012 has won a World Series. But another, Kansas City, made it to the World Series before losing to the Giants.)

But back to No. 2.

A Cardinals team has been this way before.

The 2012 Cardinals were the NL’s first No. 2 wild-card entry in the new postseason format that went into effect for the first time that season.

The 2012 Cardinals, an 88-win team, were underdogs as they headed to Atlanta to confront the 94-68 Braves at Turner Field. The Cards pulled off the upset, winning 6-3, and got it done with starter Kyle Lohse holding his own against Atlanta starter Kris Medlen.

What? Who is Kris Medlen?

Nine years later, that pitching matchup doesn’t seem like a big deal but the Lohse vs. Medlen was viewed as a significant advantage for the Braves. Why? Medlen was the hottest starting pitcher in the NL at the time, having gone 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA over his final 12 starts of the regular season

The game is probably best known for an Infield Fly Rule controversy involving Cards shortstop Pete Kozma — a ruling that theoretically thwarted a Braves’ rally. But the howling on the Atlanta side conveniently left something out: the Braves had only themselves to blame by committing three errors that led to four unearned runs by the Cardinals.

The Cardinals fell behind in the second inning on a two-run homer by Braves catcher David Ross, the current Cubs manager. But but the Cardinals countered with three three runs in the fourth to take control, eventually opening a 6-2 lead. Matt Holliday hit a solo homer and the Cards got an RBI apiece from Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, David Freese and Matt Carpenter.

Loshe allowed two earned runs with a walk and six strikeouts in his 5 and ⅔ innings. He was backed by relievers Lance Lynn, Edward Mujica, Marc Rzepczynksi, Mitchell Boggs, and Jason Motte. The group allowed only run over the final 4 and ⅓ innings, pitching around six hits and two walks.

The Cardinals proceeded to the NLDS and defeated NL East champ Washington in a five-game thriller. Game 5 in D.C. is on the short list of the most exciting St. Louis postseason victories of the Bill DeWitt Jr. era, which began in 1996.

The Nationals punched Adam Wainwright for three homers and six runs in his 2 and ⅓ innings, opening a 6-0 lead after three. The Cardinals gradually chipped away but still trailed 7-5 going into the top of the ninth. The STL bullpen did an extraordinary job the rest of the night, with Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, Mujica, Boggs and Motte getting dinged for one run in 6 and ⅔ innings.

On the brink of elimination the Cards shocked the Nationals and their fans with a four-run ninth. The top rally birds were middle infielders Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma, who combined for five hits, five RBI and three runs in Game 5. In the stunning and unforgettable ninth, Descalso tied it 7-7 with a two-out, two-run single and Kozma won it with another two-out, two-run single.

Significant in the victory was an incomprehensible gaffe by Nats manager Davey Johnson. The Cardinals were out of position players by the time Kozma stepped into the batter’s box in a 7-7 tie in the 9th. Johnson should have intentionally walked Kozma and pitched to the ondeck hitter — the closer, Motte.

To that point in his career, Motte had struck out in each of his four MLB at-bats. But Nationals closer Drew Storen pitched to Kozma, who lined an outer-half 95 mph fastball to the opposite field in right for the game-winning hit and the top moment in his big-league career. Motte, the next batter, quickly struck out to end the inning.

The Cardinals were exhausted and delirious. Before the clubhouse opened to the media, Wainwright spoke to his teammates to thank them for picking him up to erase the six-run deficit and win the series.

“I told them all, ‘I’m just real proud to be a St. Louis Cardinal, and to be your teammate right now. That show of heart, and that show of fortitude right there? It was special for me to watch. It was just special for the fans to watch. I was taken aback, and moved by what they’d done. I just felt I needed to tell the guys just what it meant to me, and a lot of people who love the Cardinals. This is an amazing team. Don’t ever doubt our hearts. Because we have heart.”

San Francisco was next up for the Cardinals in the NLCS matchup. The Cardinals took their momentum and rolled to a 3-1 series lead. They should have advanced to the World Series, and had the chance to close out the Giants in Game 5 at Busch Stadium. But the Cardinals were bewildered by cagey Giants lefty Barry Zito and flopped to a 5-0 loss. The Cardinals sank into the San Francisco Bay after that, losing Games 6 and 7 by a combined 15-1 score. It was a major disappointment.

Though No. 2 NL wild cards have taken five of eight wild-card duels since 2012, none faced a 100-win team. That looms as an imposing challenge for the Cardinals, who will travel to California for a wild-card clash against the Dodgers (currently 102-56) or Giants (104-54.)

The Giants went into Thursday with a two-game lead on the Dodgers. FanGraphs lists the Giants with a probability of 87.4 percent to win the division. And if Los Angeles is relegated to the coin-flip game, aka the wild card, Max Scherzer will likely start against the Cardinals.

Three things about Scherzer:

1) He’s one of the best pitchers in modern-era MLB history. He’s won three Cy Youngs with four other top-five finished, including second place in 2018 and third-place in 2109.

2) In his first nine starts for the Dodgers after the trade with Washington, Scherzer had a 0.78 ERA in 58 innings.

3) But in Scherzer’s last two starts the Rockies and Padres roughed him up for 10 earned runs and three homers in 10 and ⅓ innings. Scherzer hadn’t allowed five earned runs in consecutive starts since May 2014.

4) In 18 career postseason starts Scherzer is 7-5 with a 3.38 ERA.

5) In other words: he’s not quite perfect.

5a) So there’s always a chance for the Cardinals in a random one-game event. Two teams go onto a skillet and try to avoid getting burned. One will survive. One will go away. And anything can happen. Any deep analysis of a Cardinals vs. Dodgers and Wainwright vs. Scherzer bake-off is largely a waste of time. Just play ball. That’s it.

Let’s talk about this notion of the Cardinals riding their feel-good momentum of an 17-game winning streak into the postseason …

Number one, the winning streak is over. It’s history. It was wonderful. But it’s gone.

Number two, the Cardinals aren’t going into the playoffs in the traditional sense — by that I’m talking about a playoff series in which both teams have some wiggle room to overcome early lapses. The Cards are going into one playoff game. Nine innings, maybe a couple of extras. Win it, and they get to go on to the NLDS. And once there they’ll have some oxygen even if they lose the first game of the series. But that doesn’t apply to the wild-card game. Lose it and there is no recovery. Lose it, and the only thing left is the offseason.

Number three, a STL team that nearly choked away a division lead in September 2006 and staggered into the playoffs with 83 wins became the first team to win a World Series for Tony La Russa in St. Louis. The momentum narrative is fun. But it can be silly. That ’06 team had no momentum. But the 2006 Redbirds did have plenty of experienced talent, with injured players returning to health at the right time. The 2006 Cardinals also had a fortunate draw for the division series, meeting a fine but unimposing 88-win San Diego team. The 2021 Dodgers (or Giants) have the two best records in the majors.

Here’s momentum: giving the damn baseball to Chris Carpenter for Game 1 at San Diego in 2006 and have him out-pitch Jake Peavy by striking out seven Padres and getting scratched for only one run in 6 and 1/3 innings to key a 5-1 victory.

Rather than go with the momentum thing, I prefer to use the word “confidence.” Because confidence is just about everything in shaping a team’s crucial mindset for a postseason October competition. All of these teams have talent, and highly-paid professionals. The mental part of the game is huge this time of year. It often comes down to one team handling the pressure better than its opponent.

Anyway …

Only one NL second wild-card, the 2014 Giants, ultimately became World Series champions. Moreover, those Giants were the only No. 2 wild-card NL team to make it to the World Series. The 2012 Cardinals and 2015 Cubs each won in the NLDS round before going down in the NLCS.

History tells us that No. 2 wild cards have had more success than failure in the one-game pressure test. After that, the odds are bleak — with only three of the 18 second wild cards making it to the league championship series.

At least the 2014 Giants proved that it can be done. A World Series title is highly unlikely but possible, even for a No. 2 wild card (those ‘14 Giants) that had 88 regular-season wins.

Let’s summarize the fate of the 16 No. 2 wild-card teams in both leagues from 2012 through 2019.

Here’s what it looks like:

–Wild-card game record: 10-6.
–LDS record: 4-5 (but 4-1 on the NL side.)
–LCS record: 1-3
–World Series: 1-0

And what about the big boys? I bring this up because it’s relevant to the Cardinals.

Since the start of the 2012 season, 12 teams have won 100 or more regular-season games en route to the playoffs. Only one, the 2018 Yankees, made it into the postseason as a wild-card entry.

* Five of the 12 teams with 100+ victories won their league pennant.

* Three won the World Series: 2016 Cubs, 2017 Astros, 2018 Red Sox.

* And two lost in the World Series: 2017 Dodgers, and 2019 Astros.

* Two lost in the LCS: 2018 Astros and 2019 Yankees.

* Five lost in the division series: 2015 Cardinals, 2017 Indians, 2018 Yankees, 2019 Twins, and 2019 Dodgers.

From 2012 through 2019, the 100-Win Club members had an overall postseason record of 69-52 for a .570 winning percentage.

That’s a lot of verbiage and numbers in advance of the NL wild-card duel. But the Cardinals will have their place in the sun next Wednesday in California, and I wanted to provide some historical perspective before they gang heads west.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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* All stats used here are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.


Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.