Those are what remain for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2012 regular season.
This morning, they’re 68-56 — a season-high 12 games over .500. They’re atop the wild card standings with the Atlanta Braves, with a one-game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates and game-and-a-half lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. They’re in second place in the NL Central, seven games behind the Cincinnati Reds.
And now comes the biggest test — this 10-game road trip starting tonight in Cincinnati.
Three games against the Reds. So far, the Cards are 4-5 against them this season.
Three games in Pittsburgh. The two are 6-6 thus far, with just these games remaining.
And then four games in Washington, D.C., against the Nationals — currently owners of the best record in MLB.
Most proclamations, such as this being the biggest test of the season, are usually overblown and needlessly dramatic. But this really is where the 2012 Cardinals will show their true colors.
We’ve watched them play well and completely and succeed. We’ve also watched them struggle and underperform and lose in frustrating fashion. So who knows what the results of this test will ultimately be? Sure, the last three games have been great and they bounced back yesterday after being down to win decisively. But it was against a team that’s won 39 games. Remember last weekend against the Pirates?
And maybe this 10-game road trip won’t be the defining factor in the season. Even with 28 games left, as there will be then, chances certainly will still be there in a wild card race this close and with games still remaining against the Dodgers and Reds.
(Yes, I’m still hoping for some kind of implosion from the Reds so that they’ll lose the division lead. Fruitlessly, I’m sure. But wouldn’t it be awesome to have the Cards and the Pirates in the playoffs and the Reds not? Although I suppose there is still a way that St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati can make the post-season. Can the Pirates and Reds be the wild cards, with the latter losing their one game? On a no-hitter, just like Roy Halladay threw against them in October 2010?)
Back to reality, the most exciting part of the 2012 season is hopefully still ahead of us. We learned that lesson one year ago — on Aug. 24, 2011, the Cardinals lost to the Dodgers 9-4 for the final game of that sweep and the season’s 10 1/2 games-back-in-the-wild-card low point. Luckily, there’s not that kind of ground to make up this year.
But these next 38 games will let us know if the chance to follow up on 11 in ’11 and go for 12 in ’12 becomes a reality.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.