Winning the NL Central has almost become routine for the St. Louis Cardinals. Winning a second World Series title in five years would be far from it, though, and that’s what they have their sights set on.
St. Louis can finish with baseball’s best record in six seasons with a sweep of this three-game series against the Atlanta Braves beginning Friday night at Turner Field.
The Cardinals split Wednesday’s doubleheader in Pittsburgh, clinching their third straight NL Central title with an 11-1 victory in the nightcap. It’s their ninth division crown in 16 years, the second-most in that span behind only the New York Yankees, who haven’t won since 2012.
St. Louis (100-59) became the majors’ first 100-win club since Philadelphia in 2011. No club has won 103 since the 2009 Yankees. The Cardinals, who will face either the Chicago Cubs or the Pirates in next week’s Division Series have reached at least the NLCS each of the last four years, but are looking for their first World Series crown since 2011.
"Obviously we have bigger plans," pitcher Tyler Lyons said. "This is exciting and hopefully we can ride this out for a little while longer."
Jaime Garcia (10-5, 2.36 ERA) has looked as good as ever in 2015 after undergoing thoracic outlet surgery last year, winning 10 games for the first time since 2011. He dropped his first start after returning from a strained groin July 28, but has gone 7-1 in 11 outings since. The left-hander limited Cincinnati and Milwaukee to a combined two runs over 15 innings, beating the Brewers on Saturday with eight innings of one-run ball.
"I think whenever we’re done with this year, I’ll have time to sit back and think about everything that’s happened," he said. "For right now, I was preparing for this start, and now I’ve got to get ready for my next start."
Garcia is 1-0 in his last four starts against Atlanta despite a lackluster 5.11 ERA.
While the Cardinals are focused on reaching the sport’s pinnacle, Atlanta (64-95) is looking to the future. The Braves promoted John Coppolella to general manager on Thursday after the 37-year-old served as assistant for three years.
Even with a sweep of the Cardinals, the Braves are assured of their worst finish since going 65-97 in 1990.
"When John Schuerholz took over as general manager 25 years ago, he won 14 straight (division) titles," Coppolella said. "It has been nearly 10 years since he has been out of the GM chair and we’ve won one title. We want to get back to where we can go to five World Series in nine years, which is what was done here in the 1990s."
Julio Teheran (10-8, 4.16) looks to finish his season on a strong note, having gone 1-1 with a 1.91 ERA in his last five outings. He hasn’t faced St. Louis since a 6-2 loss Aug. 24, 2013, when he gave up four runs over six innings.
Atlanta’s season-high five-game home winning streak was snapped in Thursday’s 3-0 loss to Washington, though Michael Bourn is batting .364 over his last 10 games and is 7 for 12 versus Garcia.
Limited to pinch-hitting duties for the remainder of the season due to a wrist injury, Freddie Freeman is 4 for 7 against the left-hander.
St. Louis took two of three from Atlanta at Busch Stadium from July 24-26