On August 24, St. Louis was 10 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the National League wild card race. Though everyone might have thought the Cardinals were out of playoff contention, it turns out they were anything but. Today, they will play the Phillies in the National League Division Series.

As a result, by the definition of “valuable” that exists in the minds of some (as opposed to the one that actually exists in the Baseball Writers Association of America voting guidelines), everyone on the Cardinals is eligible for the NL Most Valuable Player Award.

What does this have to do with the Dodgers?

On August 24, Los Angeles was 10 1/2 games behind Arizona in the NL West race. Same date, same deficit.

(Yes, the Cardinals were closer to Milwaukee in the NL Central race, but that’s not the race they won.)

If you argue that the Dodgers were never in contention this summer, then you have to argue that the Cardinals were never in contention. Which is obviously not true.

National League standings after August 24
1t) .719 23-9 Arizona
1t) .719 23-9 St. Louis
3) .688 22-10 Los Angeles
4) .600 18-12 Milwaukee

13t) .355 11-20 Atlanta

The Dodgers certainly played as if they were in contention. They played hard and they played well. The difference between the Dodgers and St. Louis has nothing to do with the Dodgers. The Braves collapsed, and the Diamondbacks didn’t.

I realize the 2011 MVP ballots have already been cast, so this is moot as far as this year goes, but it should be remembered for future votes. The comeback of the Cardinals in the NL (along with Tampa Bay in the AL) points out yet another flaw in the misbegotten argument that Matt Kemp should be effectively ineligible for the MVP award because the Dodgers didn’t contend.

You certainly can’t argue that the games through August 24 didn’t matter for the Dodgers, and given how incredible the other comebacks were, I’m not sure how you can argue that any game for the Dodgers before they were eliminated September 17 didn’t matter to them.

With the season on the line, from August 22 through September 10, the Dodgers went 15-3 – yet they lost 1 1/2 games in the standings. Is it really fair to punish Kemp, who had a typical .971 OPS during that stretch, for his team not making the playoffs?

As smart as they think they are, sportswriters (and fans) don’t get to decide when the games no longer matter. The players do.

Update: Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness has more on the subject.