"You get to August and you're in contention," La Russa said. "That's part of the fun."
The Cardinals have a shot at taking a playoff route that generally hasn't been on La Russa's map. The Cubs seem to have a stranglehold on the National League Central title, but the NL Wild Card spot is up for grabs.
Asked when he starts looking at the scoreboard, La Russa said: "Right now -- we're the team that's behind. I look at our scoreboard, whether we're winning to stay in this thing."
On Tuesday, the Cardinals will start a crucial two-game set with the Brewers, the team directly above them in the Wild Card race. But even if St. Louis is able to leap past Milwaukee, the Cards still will have to keep an eye on the second-place team in the NL East, either the Mets or the Phillies. The loser of that battle for the division title figures to have its own Wild Card aspirations.
The Cardinals technically were the NL Wild Card team in 2001, when they tied for the NL Central title with the Astros, as both teams finished 93-69. For seeding purposes, however, Houston went into the playoffs seeded as the NL Central champions, while St. Louis was the Wild Card. That determination was based on head-to-head record.
Could this be the year the Cardinals punch their playoff ticket as a true Wild Card?
"Hopefully there's a first time for everything," La Russa said.
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.