7-3 road trip has Cardinals in NL playoff hunt

Team returns home three games back of Rockies for second Wild Card

7-3 road trip has Cardinals in NL playoff hunt

SAN DIEGO -- Nine days ago, after the Cardinals pummeled the Brewers to open their penultimate road trip of the regular season, veteran Matt Carpenter offered the measuring stick with which he felt the three-city jaunt, which ended with Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Padres, should be measured.

"You think about this road trip," Carpenter said, "and worst case, we'd like to go 7-3."

That's exactly what they did.

Even though the club's four-game San Diego stay ended quietly with Thursday's loss, the Cardinals collected seven wins over the 10-day stretch to ensure that they'll return home with a postseason berth still attainable.

"I think there's a vibe that we're all kind of feeling, that we're getting on a roll and firing on all cylinders," outfielder Stephen Piscotty said. "It's real exciting. It's a great time for it to happen."

The Cards may not have gained ground on the Cubs, who still lead the National League Central by five games, but they used a run of West Coast wins to make the NL Wild Card race much more interesting. Over the road trip, the Cards shaved 2 1/2 games off their deficit for the second Wild Card spot, moved past the Marlins and pulled even with the Brewers. The Rockies' lead over St. Louis and Milwaukee is down to three games.

According to Fangraph's calculations of postseason probabilities, the Cardinals' chances of playing in October rose from 13 percent to 25 in the 10-day span.

"Just a different feel to our team right now, too. A lot of confidence," manager Mike Matheny said. "Just different guys stepping up, and guys putting good at-bats together. It's fun to watch the life and the expectancy that something good is going to happen."

The Cardinals return home Friday not only with some renewed momentum, but also with a team that looks quite different than the one that stumbled through its last homestand.

Starter Mike Leake was traded to Seattle, while right-hander Jack Flaherty, the club's No. 3 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, is getting his feet wet with St. Louis. Another wave of talent from Triple-A Memphis arrived as September reinforcements, and Juan Nicasio is ready as a new late-inning relief option after getting traded from the Phillies.

"Down the stretch here, we have a lot of talent at our disposal here," said Lance Lynn, a hard-luck loser on Thursday after allowing one run in six innings. "Everybody is ready to make a run at it and see what we can do down the stretch. That's all you can do."

Lynn's one-run outing

The Cardinals needed the new faces, too, in order to avoid being tripped up by a succession of injuries over the last week. The Cardinals played their four-game series in San Diego with minimal contributions from four of their starting eight position players, as Kolten Wong, Carpenter, Dexter Fowler and Tommy Pham all dealt with nagging injuries.

In their place, unexpected contributors like Jose Martinez, Harrison Bader and Ryan Sherriff have risen to fill holes.

"To win a division or get into the postseason through the Wild Card, you need a team effort from everyone," Piscotty said. "We have some guys that are banged up, and they've gotten us to this point, so it's on the guys who are a little fresher to step up and kind of help finish it off."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.