As if the six months the Cardinals spent playing wasn’t proof enough, the month they just spent watching affirmed how, in this era of hyper-bullpens, their shopping list as free agency opens this week must have relievers in red, underlined.

How a team finishes the season increasingly hinges on how it finishes a game.

“If you lead for eight innings and you get beat in the ninth, that’s a little tougher pill to swallow then getting down early or staying down,” said Mike Maddux, the Cardinals’ new pitching coach, on Friday. “It can be very demoralizing for the team, and it really puts momentum to the other team. They know they’re never out of the game. It’s imperative that you’re able to bring wins home.

“I think you look at teams that make the playoffs and have long runs in the postseason,” Maddux concluded, “they generally have a bona fide closer.”

The Cardinals, their need for relief imperative, spent time this past weekend reaching out to the agents of relievers and, come Tuesday, can begin talking cash and negotiating contracts. They intend to chase a closer, such as Colorado’s Greg Holland, and could keep going, adding a setup man, like Juan Nicasio, Anthony Swarzak, Bryan Shaw, or any of the handful of legit relievers available. The market meets their need.

Baseball’s offseason unfolds deliberately, starting with the end of the World Series last week, continuing with the opening of the free agent market this week, and then winding its way toward next week’s General Manager Meetings and next month’s swap meet, December’s annual Winter Meetings. There are two pressures that could accelerate movement for the Cardinals: the widespread interest in relievers and the need for the Cardinals to make a trade (or a few) in the 15 days before having to put prospects on the 40-man roster Nov. 20 to protect them for 2018. That necessity could create a de facto November trade deadline.