No Cardinal fan will forget the last two months of the 2011 season.  At the end of the day on August 24th the Cards were 67 and 63. That was 10 games behind Milwaukee in the NL Central and 10 ½ games behind Atlanta for the wild card.

Over the next month, the Cards closed the gap on Atlanta. When the Cards swept Atlanta on the 9th, 10th and 11th of September, I began to consider the possibility of a miracle finish even though it looked like a long shot. Four games out with two and a half weeks left is a bad spot. I began to believe when the Cards beat the Cubs on Carlos Marmol’s well timed wild pitch on September 24th.

Bob Gibson was in the last years of his prime as I started following the Cardinals in 1967. Chris Carpenter’s effort in game 5 against the Phillies reminded me of what I saw Gibby do from time to time in his last few years.  I was also at U.S. Cellular Field a couple years ago when Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game. Carp’s stuff was that good against Philly that night.

David Freese put his name into October lore alongside Ozzie Smith, Kirk Gibson, Reggie Jackson and Bobby Thomson with the game winning homer in Game 6. I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing and hearing.  I've watched the Cardinals World Series Film several times and I'm relieved to see Freese's Game 6 homer drop into the grass every time.

The Encore starts Wednesday. The ballclub has changed. Tony LaRussa has retired. Albert Pujols has taken up residence near Disneyland.  I assume that the pitching will be decent—at least by 21st Century standards. Because of that, I expect the Cardinals to win the division.

There are a couple intriguing storylines and questions. How good is David Freese? We don’t know.  He’s had some bad luck with injuries. What does this guy do if he’s healthy and in the lineup for 150 to 155 games?  .265 20 HR, 85 RBI’s?  .280 35 HR 100+ RBI’s?  Neither stat line would surprise me.

Exactly what do the Cardinals have in Allen Craig?  He makes me think of a much younger Matt Holliday. Good athlete. Seems to have the knack for getting big hits. Hits the ball a long way. Seems to have a good sense for the game. Good sense of humor too if you followed the TortyCraig tweets last fall.

How healthy is Carlos Beltran? How much does he have left?
We’ll find out starting Wednesday night.