Despite the Pittsburgh Pirates winning 4-1 earlier Friday evening, the St. Louis Cardinals finally clinched the NL Central with a 7-0 win over the Chicago Cubs. All of the playoff teams had been determined in the National League by the early part of this week, but it was still mathematically possible for the Pirates to catch up with the Cardinals for the NL Central crown. That was taken away this evening and the Pirates and Reds, who are facing each other this weekend, will meet in the Wild Card playoff game next week.
For the Bucs, they knew that the likely scenario was them being in the Wild Card. However, they still have something at stake in their series with Cincy. If the Pirates can win one of these final two games, they will host the Wild Card game. Winning tomorrow would be best, as they can then rest their lineup with nothing at stake on Sunday. Also, they have rookie Gerrit Cole scheduled to start on Sunday. If they win Saturday, they will rest Cole and have him available on Tuesday out of the bullpen during the Wild Card game.
The Cardinals are also still hoping to finish with the best record in the National League. Currently, they are tied with the Atlanta Braves for that honor, as both teams are 95-65 with two games left to play. The Braves are wrapping up the season at home against Philadelphia. They squeaked out a 1-0 win Friday evening against Cliff Lee as Chris Johnson hit a solo homer in the 8th off the Philly ace.
Expect to see both St. Louis and Atlanta play a little harder these final two games, even though both have wrapped up their divisions. You have to figure both managers would prefer their teams to face either the Reds or Pirates rather than face the Dodgers, if for no other reason than the dodgers have two bona fide aces in their starting rotation in Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. In a short series, as the NLDS is, it’s possible that you could see Kershaw and Greinke twice a piece.
This is the 3rd straight year that the Cardinals will make the postseason. However, this is the first time since 2009 that they’ve won their division. The last two years, they were a Wild Card team. Also, it should be noted that manager Mike Matheny has started his managing career with two straight playoff appearances. Last season, as a rookie manager, he took the Cards to the NLCS, where they lost to the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants in 7 games after having a 3-1 lead.