With the calendar page flipping from July to August, speculation ends and teams officially enter the home stretch of the season with formalized rosters.
The Cardinals had a quiet lead up to the trade deadline and left the midsummer swapping classic with more or less the same team they entered with. Their main competition in the N.L. wild-card race, the Pirates, Braves and Dodgers, all made some improvements to their teams, making the Cards' race that much more difficult.
Taking into account the recent transactions in the MLB, here is a forecast for the Cardinals for the rest of the season.
With the current standings, the Red Birds are 55-48, four-and-a-half games behind the second place Pittsburgh Pirates and seven games back from the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds.
Both the Reds and Pirates made moves prior to the trade deadline to strengthen their teams; Cincinnati bolstered their bullpen with the acquisition of veteran reliever Jonathan Broxton and Pittsburgh added P Wandy Rodriguez, 1B Gaby Sanchez and RF Travis Snider.
The Cardinals were comparatively quiet, only adding middle-of-the-road reliever Edward Mujica to their arsenal of arms in the bullpen.
Without any major improvements to the team, making up a seven-game deficit over two months to take the division doesn't seem likely.
A wild-card bid doesn't look promising either. As the league currently stands, the Cards are third in the N.L. wild-card chase, four games behind Pittsburgh and Atlanta. While they missed out on prize Ryan Dempster, Atlanta still managed to add RP Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson before the deadline.
To worsen the Cardinals' outlook, nipping at their heels in the wild-card race are the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that made some of the biggest moves of the last couple weeks, adding IF Hanley Ramirez and OF Shane Victorino. It isn't too often a team is able to add two former All-Stars to their lineup in one week, and these acquisitions might be enough to leap over the Red Birds and even land them in the playoffs.
Simply put, the Cardinals' lack of deadline moves might sink them in the pennant race against several recently improved teams.
If the Cards' pennant run falters, you can be sure to see some of their top talent on the major league club when rosters expand in September.
Earlier this month, the Cards called up top pitching prospect Trevor Rosenthal, placing him in the bullpen. With the trade deadline bringing them RP Edward Mujica, Rosenthal was optioned down to Triple-A Memphis. He only saw four innings in his first stint in the majors, but he may return to the big league club if the arms in the bullpen aren't getting it done.
Top hitting prospect Matt Adams saw significant time when Lance Berkman went down with an injury. In his month as an everyday starter, Adams posted a .244/.286/.384, a far cry from the numbers that made him the Texas League MVP and Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year in 2011.
If the Cards slip out of contention, look for these two to both receive significant time with the big league club.
Make no mistake, regardless of how the Cards finish this season, Matheny will be their manager come opening day of next season.
If the Red Birds don't make the playoffs this year though, he may find himself managing to keep his position next year.
This offseason, the former Cardinal player was signed to a two-year contract with the club with a team option for a third year, making this season and next season crucial to Matheny keeping his job.
Matheny came in to a difficult situation, taking the reigns of a championship team that had just lost their best player and face of the franchise. Even without Pujols, fans still had high expectations entering this season and missing the playoffs would put a damper on Matheny's first season.
Despite being a fan-favorite in St. Louis, Matheny would be on a tight leash if the team disappoints in 2012. If the team is able to turn it around, this scenario will be all but forgotten, but for the immediate future it seems like a possibility.