Cardinals clinch best NL record
Matt Carpenter came up empty Sunday in his bid for a 200-hit season. St. Louis' second baseman could have cared less.
Carpenter and the Cardinals clinched home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs when they beat the Chicago Cubs 4-0 for their sixth straight win.
"That last one (hit) was tough to find," Carpenter said after going 0 for 4. "From an individual standpoint 200 hits is a cool thing, but more importantly we won a big game today and have the best record in the National League."
With the top seed, the Central League champions will host the wild-card winner in Game 1 of an NL division series on Thursday.
Joe Kelly (10-5) pitched 5 1-3 innings of three-hit ball in relief of Jake Westbrook as the Cardinals matched a season high winning streak to finish 97-65, their most since reaching 100 in 2005. St. Louis also won six straight from April 30-May 5.
The Cardinals have won eight of nine and 17 of 22.
Carpenter finished with a league-leading 199 hits. He struck out in the seventh in his last opportunity. Carpenter said he felt a little pressure in his at-bats Sunday.
"It's one of those things, when guys are chasing certain (goals) it can kind of get to them a little," he said. "I don't know if it did or not."
The milestone was important to manager Mike Matheny, who said Carpenter's failure was the lone damper on the afternoon.
"He was pushing hard, "he said. "But what a season."
Carpenter also finished first in the NL in runs (126), doubles (55) and multihit games (63).
"Now all those stats go out the window, it's just about winning games," he said. "But, I'm pleased and proud with what I've done."
Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso, Shane Robinson and Tony Cruz drove in runs for St. Louis.
The Cubs, who lost 41 of their last 59 games, finish last in the Central at 66-96.
Chicago manager Dale Sveum, who is scheduled to meet Monday with Cubs management to discuss his future, says a lack of offense hurt his club the last month.
"We didn't score a lot," he said. "When you're facing the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Atlanta, it's going to be tough."
St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook pitched one inning before Kelly came on in relief. Westbrook is not likely to be on the postseason roster and the Cardinals are not expected to pick up his option for next season.
Kelly struck out five in his first relief appearance since re-joining the starting rotation on July 6.
"It was a little different, but my mindset was the same the whole time," Kelly said. "I felt like I was commanding my fastball on both sides of the plate. I was just trying to keep a high level of focus and attack these guys."
Matheny called it, "one of his best all-around outings."
Randy Choate, Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrist contributed to the five-man, five-hit shutout.
The Cardinals scored twice in the fourth off Chicago starter Jeff Samardzija (8-13) to take a 3-0 lead. Matt Adams and Descalso hit back-to-back doubles to push the advantage to 2-0. Robinson followed with a run-scoring single.
Samardzija gave up three runs on eight hits in six innings.
"I had a strong year, I felt good," Samardzija said. "I pitched every start, threw a lot of innings and had a lot of strikeouts."
Jay, who drove in a run with a single in the third, extended his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games with a single in the first.
St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina took the field to start the game, but was removed before the first pitch. Molina received a standing ovation as he walked to the dugout. Right fielder Carlos Beltran was taken out at the start of the fifth inning and also left to a loud applause.
"Today, we were proud to do something that could honor our guys," Matheny said. "The fans like to acknowledge our guys."
NOTES: St. Louis recognized the 50th anniversary of Stan Musial's last game as a Cardinal with commemorative patches on their uniforms. Musial went 2 for 3 and singled in his final at-bat of a 3-2 win over Cincinnati. ... Matheny indicated that Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.94) will start the first game of the NL division series. The Cubs closed the season losing 41 of their last 59. ...A crowd of 44,808 gave the Cardinals their 25th sellout of the season.