Preview: Cardinals look to wrap up first NL Central title in four years

BY foxsports • September 26, 2013

The St. Louis Cardinals are hoping to become the third playoff-bound club to celebrate against the Chicago Cubs in less than a week.

Having already secured a third consecutive trip to the postseason, the Cardinals look to wrap up their first NL Central title in four years Friday night when they host their division rivals.

St. Louis (94-65) was off Thursday, a day after locking up at least a tie for the division crown with a 4-1 victory over Washington.

The Cardinals, a season-high 29 games above .500, can clinch their first Central title since 2009 with one victory in this three-game set or one loss by Pittsburgh in its series at Cincinnati this weekend. They're also battling Atlanta for the league's best record and home-field advantage through the NL playoffs.

"It feels like we're in a fight," manager Mike Matheny told the MLB's official website. "We show up here every day excited and anxious. Can't wait to get out here and watch our guys do their thing and watch it play out."

After watching the Braves win to capture the NL East title on Sunday and having Pittsburgh clinch a playoff berth at Wrigley Field the following evening, the last-place Cubs (66-93) would like to spoil the Cardinals' party plans.

They'll give the ball to All-Star Travis Wood (9-11, 2.98 ERA), who ranks eighth in the NL in ERA and fifth in opponent batting average (.218).

Wood helped delay Atlanta's division-clinching celebration, yielding one run and striking out seven in seven-plus innings Saturday before the Cubs rallied to win 3-1.

"I don't think any team looks forward to (seeing an opponent clinch)," said Wood, who has a 1.35 ERA in his last three starts as he's faced playoff-bound teams Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Atlanta.

The left-hander has been particularly tough in his past five outings on the road, going 3-0 with a 1.08 ERA. However, he's 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA in three starts against St. Louis since mid-June.

Yadier Molina is 10 for 23 with three homers against Wood over the past three seasons, and the All-Star catcher is hitting .432 with three home runs versus the Cubs this year.

Jon Jay, 9 for 21 lifetime off Wood, enters on an 11-game hitting streak during which he's batted .362. Matt Carpenter needs two hits to become the first St. Louis player to collect 200 since Albert Pujols in 2003.

Lance Lynn (14-10, 4.09) will try to become the Cardinals' third 15-game winner of 2013, joining Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller.

Lynn has followed a five-game losing streak by going 1-0 with a 1.45 ERA in his last three starts, striking out 21 in 18 2/3 innings. However, he's 1-3 in four starts against the Cubs this year and has lost the last two, allowing nine runs and 15 hits in 11 innings.

While Wellington Castillo is 4 for 6 with a homer against Lynn this year, Anthony Rizzo has gone hitless in 11 at-bats.

The Cubs, losers in 11 of 15, could be opening their final series under manager Dale Sveum, who doesn't know if he'll be back for a third season despite being under contract for 2014.

"That's part of the gig," Sveum said, "is knowing the day after the season."

The Cardinals have won 16 of 20 at home but are 4-3 there this year against Chicago. St. Louis leads the season series 9-7.

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