MIAMI -- St. Louis entered Monday six games behind Cincinnati in the National League Central and eight games behind Atlanta for an NL Wild Card spot with 14 games to play.
Seemingly compounding the challenge is that the Cardinals aren't getting a day off over the season's final 31 games.
Impossible to catch up? No. Improbable but possible? The Cardinals believe yes.
"It's good to be part of the excitement that you're still alive," manager Tony La Russa said before Monday afternoon's makeup game against the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium.
"But you understand that you've got to get hot. Playing against the Cubs [and losing three straight] is not hot. Winning three of four from the Padres is hot."
La Russa recalled that the Cardinals were nine games out of the division lead in August 2006, the year they won the World Series. And he saw how the Mets had a major collapse the following September, with the Phillies capitalizing.
"Fourteen games is a lot of games," La Russa said. "Let's see what we do with them."
One good sign: the Cardinals have gone through 17 games of their 31-game gauntlet, and La Russa said any lack of endurance hasn't been a factor so far.
"I've heard no complaints, and we're not a tired ballclub," he said.
He knows he doesn't have to worry about endurance with a lot of his players, most notably catcher Yadier Molina, still playing despite a balky knee.
"At the position I play, something is always going to hurt," Molina said. "You've got to be tough enough to play through it. We want to finish strong."
La Russa thought of one potentially good thing about no days off the rest of the way.
"If you get hot, no distractions," he said.
Garcia to miss another start, but could return
MIAMI -- Left-hander Jaime Garcia, shut down because of fatigue, will miss his second straight start, with the Cardinals opting to use Jeff Suppan in his spot against the Pirates on Thursday.
Yet manager Tony La Russa on Monday held out the possibility that Garcia could return in the regular season's final week.
"There's a couple of places next week where he could fit in," La Russa said before the Cardinals' makeup game against the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium.
Garcia is 13-8 with a sterling 2.70 ERA, but he has thrown 163 1/3 innings, a heavy workload for a pitcher who had Tommy John surgery in September 2008.
Garcia said that, after a brief shutdown, he has resumed pitching on the side during this lull and is just waiting to see now if he'll get another regular-season start.
"I'm ready to go," he said. "I threw a side yesterday and felt fine. I'm just waiting to see what decision they make."
Garcia acknowledged that he had reached a point of being fatigued, but that he was prepared to pitch through it.
"I'm not going to lie to you -- I was feeling a little tired," he said. "But that was just like everybody else. Nobody was feeling 100 percent like you do in Spring Training."
Garcia said he has told the Cardinals that "I'm feeling fine" now, and he still hopes to be able to put an exclamation point on his season, particularly if it will help the club reach the playoffs.
Descalso enjoys unusual big league debut
MIAMI -- Infielder Daniel Descalso, a recent Cardinals callup, is registered as having appeared in his first Major League game, even though his lone scheduled at-bat was aborted by the opposition's pitching change.
The unusual situation occurred against the Padres in the sixth inning on Saturday night. With the lefty-hitting Descalso coming to bat, Padres manager Bud Black opted to put in a left-handed reliever.That prompted Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to insert Nick Stavinoha for Descalso.
"I was locked in, getting ready to go," Descalso said. "I had some butterflies, but I was ready to hit."
With the pitching change, Descalso was soon in the dugout exchanging high-fives with his teammates.
"Guys said, 'Good going, way to get the pitcher out of the game,'" he said. "It's not how you envision your first Major League appearance. But hopefully it won't be my last."
Descalso, who hit .282 with nine homers and 71 RBIs at Triple-A this season, predictably said he has enjoyed every moment he's been in the Majors.
"I'm just trying to soak everything up and learn as much as I can here," he said.
Charlie Nobles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.