NEW YORK — It was only a few weeks ago, at the start of a 26-game stretch where the Cardinals would play .500 baseball as they have for most of the season, that they sat 4 1/2 games out of a postseason berth and any glimpse of October was through a telescope, with a smudged lens.
A funny thing happened on the way to the end of the season.
With some help from the other contenders sagging around them, the Cardinals have found themselves in the thick of it. Their win Monday night against the Mets put them 1/2 game behind Cincinnati, the current leader for the second wild-card berth. The Cardinals are tied with San Diego at 74-69 behind the Reds, and all three teams have the same amount of losses.
The Cardinals are coming off their second consecutive shutout, and starter Adam Wainwright, fresh from his 16th win of the season, put it bluntly Monday night.
They have to win series.
At the minimum.
They've been helped back into the race but have to help themselves to win it.
The Cardinals continue to go start-to-start with their first spot in the rotation, and rookie Jake Woodford has his second turn as a starter, his first on the road. Woodford pitched four solid innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers in what proved to be a pivotal win to split that series a week ago at Busch Stadium. Woodford was lifted when the Cardinals had a chance to add some offense, and through his four innings he allowed one run on three hits. He struck out three.
While he holds the spot in the rotation, the Cardinals are shifting the rotation around him.
Wainwright will pitch every fifth day, and the rotation will adjust to accommodate him. On the horizon, Dakota Hudson (elbow) is expected to rejoin the team during the next road trip. Jack Flaherty (shoulder) will throw a bullpen session Thursday in St. Louis, and the results of that will determine if he'll be able to contribute this season. The Cardinals have discussed creative deployment's of those two starters, and that could mean they split games or come into them in relief.
That would add to arms to the mix as the rotation responds to the standings, adjusts around Wainwright, and tries to maintain its place as part of the 11th-hour relevance.
The Mets (72-73) turn to their most reliable starter this season given the injuries elsewhere in the rotation. Marcus Stroman has a 2.87 ERA and will be makings his 31st start of the season. The Mets are 11-5 when Stroman pitches at least six innings, and Stroman has thrown at least six innings in four of his past five starts. A righthander, Stroman has had success against lefthanded hitters. He's held them to a .237/.293/.343 slash line and that explains the wrinkle in the Cardinals' lineup when it comes to where catcher Yadier Molina is hitting.
Check it out:
1. Tommy Edman, 2B
2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
3. Tyler O'Neill, LF
4. Nolan Arenado, 3B
5. Yadier Molina, C
6. Dylan Carlson, RF
7. Edmundo Sosa, SS
8. Harrison Bader, CF
9. Jake Woodford, RHP
1. Jonathan Villar, 3B
2. Francisco Lindor, SS
3. Michael Conforto, RF
4. Pete Alonso, 1B
5. Javier Baez, 2B
6. Jeff McNeil, LF
7. Kevin Pillar, CF
8. Tomas Nido, C
9. Marcus Stroman, RHP
Check back later this evening for coverage from Citi Field in Queens, and there will be expanded coverage in the pages of the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday and online here at StlToday.com.