Cardinals loose, focused as they near the finish line

Cardinals loose, focused as they near the finish line

Cardinals loose, focused as they near the finish line

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by JJ Bailey / BaseballStL

KMOV.com

Posted on September 24, 2013 at 4:35 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 24 at 4:35 PM

(BaseballStL) -- Every team reaches a point of self-actualization. For some it's the first few months, for others it's too late to do any good. 

For some very fortunate clubs, that moment of cohesion comes as the regular season ends and the postseason begins. 

Anyone who has played or coached- or even observed- sports at a high level remembers a time when a team was playing so well the coaches could almost sit back and watch. The machine had been tweaked and tinkered with, the gears finally meshed and all that was left to do was wind it up and let it go. 

That point has come for the St. Louis Cardinals. With five games to play, the Birds appear to have found their center. Deficits that seemed insurmountable just weeks ago now feel easily conquered. 

Pitchers continue to throw well. New faces continue to make their names familiar. Even as injuries mount, the machine spins undeterred.

The energy inside Busch stadium Tuesday was akin to the moments preceding a headliner taking the stage at a concert. There was excitement, eagerness and confidence filling every corner of Baseball Heaven. 

As players gathered for the team photo, it felt like elementary school again. They laughed, they teased, they enjoyed each other's company. There was the distinct feeling of elation to the group that accompanies a team playing well and ready for the next challenge. 

Even manager Mike Matheny, normally reserved in language and emotion, seemed loose. 

"We show up here everyday excited and… I guess anxious is the right word," he said. "We just can't wait to get out here and watch our guys do their thing and watch it play out."

A team as successful as the Cardinals has built a reputation on hard work and high expectations. Routines are rigorous and goals are lofty. When those two come together, it's undeniably fun for everyone involved. 

As Matheny tossed his customary batting practice pitches, he mixed in a left-handed effort. Jon Jay smiled and half-heartedly waved at the pitch, drawing a smirk from his manager. The levity was brief- Jay went back to taking discipline cuts at precise pitches- but it demonstrated the state of things in St. Louis. The Cardinals are loose, they're focused and they are playing exactly the way they want to play. 

Few sports have as many moving parts at baseball, and when they are all moving together it is truly something to behold. Now we find out just how much gas this machine has. 

NOTES:

Matt Holliday is out for the third day with tightness in his back. Matheny said before the game the medical staff suggested giving him another day. The team hopes to have him back Wednesday, but he could be held out until after the off day. "We'll just have to follow along and see how he does," Matheny said. 

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Allen Craig, scheduled to be reexamined Thursday, is away from the club. He is in California tending to a family issue. Craig is expected to be back for his exam, and was not scheduled to do any rehab between now and then. 

JJ Bailey covers the Cardinals for KMOV.com and the BaseballStL app. Follow him on twitter @jungborednbroke and on @baseballstl_app for updates. 

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