Originally written on The Baseball Page  |  Last updated 10/4/12

There have been some big changes in St. Louis since the Cardinals won the World Series last year with slugger Albert Pujols leaving the team as a free agent and manager Tony La Russa retiring. However, the club will still have the opportunity to defend its World Series title as they made the playoffs on Oct. 2 by clinching one of the National League’s wild card berths. They’ll face off against the Atlanta Braves on Fri. Oct. 5 in a one-game showdown to see who earns the right to advance.

Cardinals’ starting pitcher Chris Carpenter said they may be the last team to make the playoffs, but they still have the chance to win another championship. He added that his club is playing well right now and everybody realizes they have to be at their best to beat Atlanta and move on. The franchise and fans is used to the pressures of the postseason since the Cardinals have been involved in the playoffs nine times out of the last 13 seasons.

Rookie manager Mike Matheny was a member of three of those teams and is now looking forward to managing St. Louis as they hope to repeat as World Series winners. One of the first things Matheny did was to name Kyle Lohse as his starting pitcher for the game against the Braves. Lohse has won 16 games this season and Matheny said he’s done everything the team has asked of him.

Some fans are surprised the Cardinals have made it this far since the club suffered several injuries throughout the season. Pitcher Jamie Garcia missed over two months of the season due to an arm injury and first baseman Lance Berkman played in just 31 contests. Outfielder Allen Craig missed six weeks and shortstop Rafael Furcal remains on the disabled list. However, the team proved it a lot of depth and everybody chipped in by picking up their workload.

Bill De Witt, the Cardinals CEO, said it’s usually hard for a World Series-winning team to make the playoffs the next season and he thinks it’s a wonderful accomplishment. He said the team’s longest losing streak of the season was five games and the starting pitching has been a big reason they’ll be playing Atlanta on the weekend. However, the team hasn’t won more than five games in a row either and has often had a hard time manufacturing runs. St. Louis sprinted to the finish line though with 11 victories in their past 15 games.

With the Cardinals clinching a playoff spot, Matheny will be able to rest some of his regular starting players in the season finale and is hoping everybody will be healthy for the game on Oct 5. Adam Wainwright won’t have to pitch in the last regular season game and he’ll be ready to go if Matheny calls on him to start the Division Series, providing St. Louis makes it.

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