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.
Who's the big dog?
Albert Pujols is the Cardinals' perennial big dog, but this year, Matt Holliday is barking loudest. He leads the team in wOBA (.426) and is sixth among the league's batters in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) (5.5). In the midst of a powerful lineup with Pujols and Lance "Big Puma" Berkman, "Big Daddy" Holliday will continue to be the biggest of the big three sluggers whom the Cardinals will rely on when the dog days catch up with the senescent Berkman and battle-scarred Pujols. Holliday hit .425 OBP/.653 SLG in August and September to lead the 2007 Rockies to the playoffs, and the Cardinals need him to repeat that performance in 2011.
Who needs to step up?
In a rotation that is more geared toward first-round playoff success -- two aces in Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia -- than mediocrity, Jake Westbrook, Kyle Lohse and newly acquired Edwin Jackson need to step up in order to first get there. The Cardinals paid a steep price for Jackson, so he'll need to pay bigger dividends than the 4.95 ERA/5.96 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) he has provided in 20 innings so far. As for Westbrook, stepping up may be an unrealistic expectation, given that his 4.27 FIP this season is not far from his career rate (4.18).
Key stat: Strikeout percentage
LOWEST STRIKEOUT PERCENTAGE
The top five in the major leagues in 2011:
The St. Louis Cardinals feature the second-lowest strikeout percentage in the league at 15.7 percent. Three Cardinals find themselves among the top 15 in lowest strikeout percentage, including Yadier Molina (9.6), Ryan Theriot (8.7) and Albert Pujols (9.0). Pujols' strikeout percentage ranks eighth in the league, an even more impressive feat considering he has also hit 28 home runs. The seven batters ahead of Pujols in terms of strikeout percentage have combined to hit 30 home runs. No player with at least 25 home runs this season comes within five points of Pujols' strikeout percentage.
-- Kimberly Meyer and Derek Czenczelewski, ESPN Stats & Info
Where are they going?
Heading into the season, the St. Louis Cardinals armed themselves to the teeth with veterans. With Albert Pujols under team control for one more season, and Tony La Russa essentially working year-to-year, this was the time to push their chips to the middle of the table. But as the trade deadline neared, the Cardinals' playoff chances were tenuous at best, so they doubled down for even more veterans, and did so in part by trading their youngest premium position player -- Colby Rasmus. Unfortunately, the Cards' new acquisitions have failed to stem the tide, and as their playoff hopes fade, it's fair to wonder if the window of opportunity has closed for the suddenly old Cardinals.
In breaking down FanGraphs' WAR of each team in the game by age group, we find that at the start of play on Friday, the Cardinals were one of five teams in baseball in which players aged 30 or higher were contributing close to half of their team's WAR or more. The Cardinals were at 56 percent; the other four are the Texas Rangers (49 percent), Chicago Cubs (54 percent), New York Yankees (67 percent) and Philadelphia Phillies (76 percent). While the Cubs are in a league of their own, the Yankees, Rangers and Phillies all stand a very good chance of reaching the postseason.
For more of Paul Swydan's analysis, click here .