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Finally healthy, Yadier Molina is helping fuel the Cardinals' offense

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Missing his first All-Star Game since 2008 was a tough blow for Yadier Molina.

Even though the 34-year-old catcher welcomed the respite, he was deeply disappointed in his performance in the first half of the season with the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I hate to look bad," said Molina in a recent conversation with ESPN.com. "I hate losing. I'm a bad loser.

"When I am performing poorly and the team is losing, I feel terrible. I am a very proud man in what I do. I want to be the very best. And sometimes that's not going to happen. In baseball, we play too many games, there are so many moments when you are going to fail, but I simply don't like to lose."

And struggle the Cardinals did.

St. Louis finished the first half barely four games above .500 (46-42), seven games behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs and far from the team that was 56-33 at the break in 2015 and went on to win 100 games on its way to securing a third consecutive National League Central title.

Molina's batting average in his first 82 games in 2016 was .259 with only 28 RBIs, evidence of the much-noticed decline his offense has shown his past two injury-ridden seasons.

Nonetheless, Bengie and Jose Molina's younger brother said he paid no attention to the multiple criticisms writing him -- and the Cardinals -- off.

"We are a good team that never gives up," Molina said. "We have had a lot of injuries, players that we have missed, but every time we put someone in the lineup, whatever their last name is, they give their best.

"We are a team of tradition and know how to win. It hasn't been an easy season for us, yet here we are."

It has been a tale of two halves for Molina, and his resurgent offense has gone hand in hand with the Cardinals re-establishing themselves as solid wild-card playoff contenders.

Molina said he has no explanation for his remarkable improvement, beyond feeling healthier. With a batting average of .357 and 13 doubles and two home runs in his past 34 games, Molina has had the best offensive production among all catchers that have played at least 20 games in the second half of the season.

"I play ball the same way every day," Molina said. "Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don't. But I have been playing baseball for a long time, and the key is always making adjustments. And each game it's different.

"I also have felt healthier lately, better than the first couple of months. I had two surgeries back in December. A lot of people don't realize that. It has taken a while for my hand to feel 100 percent. I can't say I'm at a 100 percent, because I really am not, but it has felt better, and that helped me perform better."

The Cards currently hold a 1½ game lead over the Miami Marlins for the National League's second wild-card slot after losing two out of three games to the New York Mets. But while Molina certainly has a sense of acceptance to the inevitability of the Cubs being crowned divisional champs, he is quick to point out that making it into the postseason is the Cardinals' only goal, regardless of how they get there.

"Chicago is playing really well, but there is nothing written in baseball," said the eight-time Gold Glove Award winner and four-time Platinum Glove Award winner. "I have gone through many moments, played in World Series, and we've been back 10 games or 11 games with 20 days left in the season, and we have come from behind to reach the playoffs.

"Winning the division is one of those things that one would like to do, but the mentality of every player is to make it to the playoffs. Anything can happen in the playoffs. We won 100 games last season and lost in the first round. Winning the division doesn't guarantee you anything. It doesn't guarantee that you will go to the World Series. All that matters is that you get to play in the postseason -- and there, anything can happen."