Preview: Cardinals look to keep pace in the race for NL's best record
While they had already clinched a playoff spot, the St. Louis Cardinals have finally wrapped up the NL Central.
The Cardinals now give the ball to ace Adam Wainwright as they try to keep pace in the race for the league's best record Saturday against the visiting Chicago Cubs.
Matt Holliday and David Freese both homered and Yadier Molina drove in three runs as St. Louis (95-65) locked up its first division title in four years with Friday's 7-0 win.
"I think relentless is probably the term that might sum it up," said manager Mike Matheny, whose team has won four straight by a combined 17-4 score. "It's extremely special."
Gearing up for their third consecutive postseason appearance, the Cardinals remain tied with Atlanta for the NL's best record. They are assured of home-field advantage when the NL division series starts Thursday.
"We're all embracing this and understanding what we've accomplished," Freese said. "We've been through so much."
St. Louis now turns to Wainwright (18-9, 3.01 ERA), who was pushed up a day to put him in line to start Game 1 of the NLDS.
"What had as much factor of anything was sitting and talking with him about what he feels gives him the best chance to be successful, and just continuing to treat the ace of the staff and as if were the ace of the staff," Matheny told MLB's official website. "(We) continue to listen to these guys and how their body feels, and he feels good. He's been on regular rest for a while."
Wainwright, who can tie Washington's Jordan Zimmermann for the NL lead in wins, is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA in his last four starts. He yielded three runs in seven-plus innings to beat Washington 4-3 on Monday.
"It's amazing that once he gets going, how different his stuff looks," Matheny said of Wainwright, who settled down after giving up two runs in the first. "It doesn't matter what he looks like early, he's going to put it together."
The right-hander has surprisingly had a rough time against the woeful Cubs (66-94) since last season, going 1-2 with a 5.14 ERA in seven outings.
Loser in 12 of 16 overall, Chicago has hit .197, including .105 with runners in scoring position, during a 1-6 stretch on the road. The Cubs have now witnessed three different opponents clinch within a week.
"I've already said it," manager Dale Sveum said. "You get something out of it."
Starlin Castro had three of the team's seven hits Friday. Castro, hitting a career-low .246, is batting .463 with five extra-base hits in his last 11 games versus St. Louis.
The Cubs give the ball to Edwin Jackson (8-17, 4.74), the major league leader in losses. The right-hander allowed three runs in six innings Sunday in a 5-2 defeat to Atlanta, dropping to 1-6 since the beginning of August.
Jackson is 0-3 with a 9.68 ERA in his last four starts in St. Louis. Molina has hit him hard, going 10 for 21 with three homers in their matchups.
Allen Craig is 7 for 15 against Jackson, but he remains sidelined with a Lisfranc fracture. Craig was ruled out of the NLDS but could return if the Cardinals advance.
"If we get to the NLCS or World Series, you never know," he said.
Filling in for Craig, Matt Adams is batting .359 with six homers, 13 RBIs and 14 runs over a 17-game stretch.