Can the Cardinals make the playoffs?

Editor's note: Throughout August, ESPN.com will take a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.

At the bottom of the page, each team will receive a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.

Albert Pujols


Albert Pujols

Pujols is of course the biggest of the big dogs, and he's having another season worthy of his bark. Yet for all of his bite, we have yet to see him break out of the pack and truly dominate the league as he has in the past: The man who owns a career .426 on-base percentage is second to the Reds' Joey Votto in OBP at "only" .411 this year. Still, he leads the league in total bases and runs created, and he is tops on the Cardinals in Wins Above Replacement and Win Probability Added. The Cardinals' offense begins and ends with this big dog. As always.

-- Matthew Philip, Cardinals blogger (Fungoes), SweetSpot Blog Network

Colby Rasmus


Colby Rasmus

Super sophomore Colby Rasmus started tremendously but has cooled lately, getting on base at only a .294 clip since the middle of June while suffering through a relative power outage (.398 slugging percentage). What's worse, he's been shelved the past few days with a strained right calf. For the big dogs Pujols and Matt Holliday to continue to produce, they need to count on Rasmus to return to the lineup and bump the unready Allen Craig. They don't need and can't expect the Rasmus of early June, when he was humming with a .401 OBP and .596 SLG, but they need more than he's given the past two months.

-- Matthew Philip, Cardinals blogger (Fungoes), SweetSpot Blog Network

The Cardinals have been a study all season in just how far a team can go by riding the backs of three stud pitchers, regardless of how the rest of the rotation fills out.

The answer, they've discovered, is pretty far.

That trio -- Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and rookie Jaime Garcia -- have started 77 of the Cardinals' 121 games this season and the team is 50-27 in those games. That adds up to a .649 win percentage, which on its own would be several games ahead of the Yankees for the best record in baseball.

Problem is, the rest of the starting rotation -- with most of those starts going to Kyle Lohse, Brad Penny, Blake Hawksworth and Jeff Suppan plus the recently acquired Jake Westbrook -- has led the team to a 17-27 record in its starts.

By itself, that .386 win percentage would be worse than every team except the Orioles and Pirates.

This is not to say that the Cardinals have been better than the Yankees when one of their three horses takes the hill and worse than the Diamondbacks when someone else does, but at times it might have seemed that way.

Cardinals starters this season

The major offseason move was locking up Matt Holliday to a long-term deal, and getting a full season of offense (after his annual slow start) out of Holliday has been a big factor in making the bats more than an Albert Pujols-only show.

However, the true offensive boosts might be the breakout seasons from Colby Rasmus and David Freese (a breakout season shortened by injury in Freese's case). That pair has taken most of the plate appearances in the fifth spot of the order this year, and that spot has far outperformed last year's five-hole batters.

Cardinals batting fifth in lineup*

Finally, in true Tony La Russa/Dave Duncan fashion, the defense has saved the team on plenty of occasions. A stat provided by Baseball Info Solutions has the Cardinals' defense at 49 runs saved, trailing only the Braves and Padres in the NL.

Their pitchers and catchers (mostly Yadier Molina) alone have combined for 20 runs saved, tops of any team in baseball.

That defense, combined with the three top-tier starters, have given La Russa and Duncan lots to smile about this season. At least three out of every five days.

-- Greg Found, ESPN Stats & Info blog

From Baseball Think Factory

In 1966, Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles had the best year of his career; he led the American League in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. A year later, Carl Yastrzemski did the same thing, hitting .326 with 44 home runs and 121 RBIs -- all tops in the league.

In the four decades since, some of baseball's most hallowed records (714, 755 and 4,191) have fallen, but nobody has managed to pull off a Triple Crown season. Players have come close -- Gary Sheffield was the odds-on favorite for much of the summer in 1992 and Albert Pujols seems to enter every season as a possibility -- but no player has finished the season at the top of the leaderboards in all three Triple Crown categories since Yaz.

Could 2010 be the year?

As of Sunday night's games, three players have a shot: Miguel Cabrera in the American League and Joey Votto and the aforementioned Pujols in the National League.

For more of Baseball Think Factory's analysis, click hereInsider .