Cards defy odds to clinch postseason berth

5th-seed St. Louis heads to San Diego for Wild Card Series

September 28th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- The story of the Cardinals’ 2020 season involves 17 days off to deal with a coronavirus outbreak, 18 people affected with COVID-19, 53 games in 44 days, 11 doubleheaders, 13 Major League debuts and 41 rental cars.

It all culminated with a 5-2 win over the Brewers on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium -- clinching the Cardinals a spot in the postseason.

“I just want to appreciate and pause what just happened and what these guys just accomplished,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Getting through it could’ve been enough. But then making the playoffs and sticking to their goals of making the playoffs and figuring out a way to do it and find a solution is, for me, beyond impressive on a lot of levels.”

The win sent the Cardinals to the postseason for the second consecutive year and gave the Cardinals (30-28) a winning record for the 13th consecutive season. It was the first time since 2001 that the Cardinals punched their ticket on the final day of the regular season.

’s leadoff triple in the third led to a four-run inning, and his 425-foot home run deep into Big Mac Land in the fourth lifted the Cardinals to the final win they needed to get to October baseball. Starter gave the Cardinals four innings, two innings, and and combined for the final three to shut down the Brewers.

“This was by far the most daunting and difficult year any of us have ever been through,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “New obstacles, new challenges, and they all stuck together. From Mike Shildt, to the players -- it’s fun to be here. It’s great that we did it on a winning note and not backdooring it. I think this group has a lot to be proud of.”

The victory locked the Cardinals into the No. 5 seed in the National League postseason bracket, so they will head to San Diego and face the Padres for the Wild Card Series starting on Wednesday. Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

Despite the Brewers’ loss on Sunday, they still clinched a postseason spot, too, with the Giants and Phillies losing. That means four NL Central teams made the playoffs: the first-place Cubs (No. 3 seed), the Cardinals (No. 5) the Reds (No. 7) and the Brewers (No. 8).

There were many times over the course of the shortened schedule that it seemed the Cardinals wouldn’t get here. When they came back from the coronavirus outbreak in August, the Cardinals returned to the field by driving individual rental cars to Chicago for their first of 11 doubleheaders this season. Over the next 53 days, they were forced almost daily to shuffle their roster to be ready for that day’s game(s). They adjusted to the mental fatigue that came with playing every day.

“Of course you want to go out there and play well, but I think also you had to throw some expectation out the window, not knowing what to expect taking those couple of weeks off and all these doubleheaders, and so many new guys and not knowing who was on the roster day to day,” said , who played all 58 games of the Cards’ season. “When we didn’t play for two weeks, you had no idea what to expect. How were we going to play? What was going to happen? What was the schedule going to be like? It kind of felt like if we made the playoffs, it was going to be a huge accomplishment in itself, or to even be in the race. For us to do it, I do think it’s a great accomplishment.”

The Cardinals honored that accomplishment Sunday with what Bader called a “tame” celebration as the team tried their best to follow social distancing and mask-wearing protocols. Mozeliak called it a “180-degree difference” from what you’d normally expect from a postseason-clinching celebration.

But it was also tame for another reason, Bader said: They don’t want this to be it.

“Once you get in, anything can happen,” Bader said. “I think having something to play for, and in reality, we have nothing to lose because of how far we’ve come, I think this group goes to dangerous places. … We’ve just accomplished a lot, and it’s like the last thing we’re doing is exhaling. Like, 'Oh, we made it' -- no. It’s the total opposite. We want it all. We’re coming for it all.”

What the Cardinals went through this season kept them together as a team, and their goal of being a playoff team every year kept them pushing through the schedule and everything else thrown at them this year.

“The reason we were surviving the day was to get to the next day ... but this group was all-in for this,” Shildt said. “There was no sacrifice to our goals. This is what kept this group moving forward was dedication to us doing exactly what we did today. We don’t talk about the playoffs a lot, but that’s understood, so we work off that point of reference.”