(AP) — While they didn’t find out until well after losing their last game, the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals are officially headed back to the playoffs.
With both teams looking to pick up steam, the Cardinals wrap up the regular season against Homer Bailey and the NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium.
Though it could have clinched with a win, St. Louis (87-74), which fell 3-1 on Tuesday, locked up a playoff berth with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 4-3 loss to San Francisco later that night. The Cardinals will play at Atlanta on Friday in the new one-game playoff between wild-card teams.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s a wonderful accomplishment,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these guys and especially Mike Matheny for what he was able to do with his leadership.”
Cincinnati (97-64), meanwhile, remains tied with Washington for the league’s best record after the Nationals won 4-2 on Tuesday. The Reds lost their head-to-head series against the Nationals and need a victory in this game and a Washington loss Wednesday to earn home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
“We don’t know if it’s going to be advantageous to get first, second or third or the wild card,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Right now, this is all new.”
The Reds have won four of six overall and six of nine against the Cardinals.
“It’s a lot of energy,” Jay Bruce said. “I think it’s a good series for us to play going into the playoffs.
“Scott Rolen actually pointed that out to me. If we had gone somewhere where they’re not a contender, we would have been like, `All right, let’s get this over.’ But these guys are good, they play us tough.”
The Reds now turn to Bailey (13-10, 3.75 ERA), who went 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA over six September starts and finished the month in spectacular fashion. The right-hander matched a career high with 10 strikeouts while throwing the 15th no-hitter in Reds history Friday, a 1-0 win at Pittsburgh.
“To me, at 26 … he’s got a lot of time to get better and he’s already shown he’s an established quality starter,” said batterymate Ryan Hanigan. “Whether he becomes an ace or not, we’ll see.”
Despite his superb effort, Bailey could be left out of Cincinnati’s postseason rotation. Johnny Cueto will get the call in Game 1 of the division series with Bronson Arroyo and Mat Latos taking the mound in Games 2 and 3.
“We’re not sure about that,” Baker told the team’s official website when asked if he would use a fourth starter, if needed. “Generally speaking, you only use three starters in the first round. We won’t try to guess who’s not (in), but that’s a pretty good ace in the hole if you’ve got a guy getting hammered.”
Bailey has typically struggled against the Cardinals, going 3-7 with a 5.32 ERA over 12 career starts. He is 0-3 with a 6.89 ERA in four outings at St. Louis, though he hasn’t pitched there since last season.
Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and David Freese have all taken Bailey deep twice, with Holliday going 11 for 25 (.440) in their matchups.
With a playoff spot clinched, the Cardinals will skip Adam Wainwright’s scheduled start and give prized rookie Shelby Miller (1-0, 2.35) his first career start instead.
Miller, who turns 22 later this month, has made five relief appearances since he was recalled from the minors on Sept. 4. He tossed one scoreless inning at Houston last Wednesday.