For the third time this week, the Chicago Cubs got a glimpse of life at the top. Once was way more than enough.
''The last thing you want is teams to clinch on you,'' third baseman Donnie Murphy said after the St. Louis Cardinals captured the NL Central with a 7-0 victory Friday night. ''You don't want to be that team anymore.''
The Cardinals cruised behind the strong pitching of Lance Lynn and home runs by David Freese and Matt Holliday, then took the celebration inside.
Cubs starter Travis Wood (9-12) couldn't reach a milestone without some heartache. He left after just one inning, giving up three runs and four hits, when he reached 200 in a season for the first time.
''They approached me with it and I support them to do what they wanted to do,'' Wood said. ''I had two lefties to get out and several other batters. When you get two outs and you still face nine, that's on you.''
St. Louis (95-65) has won six of seven and is tied with Atlanta for the best record in the NL. They are assured of home-field advantage when the NL division series starts Thursday.
''I've already said it. You get something out of it,'' Chicago manager Dale Sveum said. ''But I've already seen it and I don't really like watching celebrations if I'm not involved.''
Adam Wainwright (18-9) was moved up to start Saturday, putting the St. Louis ace on track to start his team's postseason opener against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A near-sellout crowd of 44,030 was on its feet, roaring and clapping in unison the final half-inning, then snapping pictures and applauding while the team celebrated near the mound. After the final out, Cardinals players put on T-shirts that read: ''We Own The Central.''
The Cubs have lost 12 of 16. The Braves wrapped up the NL East on Sunday at Wrigley Field, the Pirates secured a playoff spot in Chicago the following day and got nothing going against the Cardinals.
''You can tell from the beginning that they had that intensity, that they just wanted to come out and get it over with,'' Murphy said.
Lynn (15-10) struck out six in a row, starting with Dioner Navarro to end the first. He fanned seven his first time through the order and allowed just four hits over six innings with nine strikeouts and no walks. Lynn has won consecutive starts after a skid in which he was 0-5 with a 5.44 ERA in eight outings.
Leadoff man Starlin Castro had three hits, including a third-inning single that stopped Lynn's strikeout streak. Castro has seven games with three or more hits, four of them against St. Louis.
Yadier Molina had two hits and three RBI to set a single-season best with 78, Jon Jay had two hits and an RBI, and leadoff man Matt Carpenter had a single that left him one hit shy of 200.
Six batters reached safely with two out in the first: Molina had a two-run double off the left-field wall and Jay extended his hitting streak to 12 with an RBI single.
Holliday hit his 250th career homer and 21st this season leading off the sixth off Blake Parker.
NOTES: Both benches were warned in the sixth after Lynn's high fastball struck Navarro on an arm, although Sveum said the umpires told him ''they goofed up.'' ''The umpire was waving no swing and he thought the head umpire was saying `give a warning.''' ... Lynn's strikeout run was the Cardinals' longest since 2009, when John Smoltz fanned seven Padres in a row in his St. Louis debut. ... Edwin Jackson (8-17, 4.74) is the Cubs starter Saturday. ... Cardinals cleanup man Allen Craig (left mid-foot sprain) was ruled out for the NL division series. ... Wood and Jeff Samardzija are among three NL duos with 200 innings apiece and are the Cubs' first since Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly in 2008. ... Molina is batting .437 against the Cubs (21 for 48) with a team-high 13 RBI. ... The Cubs are 12-74 when allowing four runs or more.