Cardinals clinch a postseason berth

Jenifer Langosch/

Though their sights are still set on a second straight division title, the Cardinals will take the field for their regular-season home finale knowing that their season will not end in a week.

As Cardinals players and staff were arriving at Busch Stadium to prepare to face the Reds on Sunday night, the Pirates were wrapping up a 1-0 win over the Brewers at PNC Park. The loss eliminated Milwaukee from the National League Central race and ensured the Cardinals of no worse than at least a Wild Card spot.

As a result, St. Louis can boast of being the only NL team to have advanced to the postseason each of the last four seasons.

The Cardinals’ cushion over the Pirates in the NL Central now sits at three games, with both teams having seven games left on their respective schedules. Pittsburgh, like St. Louis, will end the season with a pair of road series. The Cardinals’ magic number to clinch a division title is five, making Tuesday the earliest possible day for a champagne celebration.

Thought they’ll be leaving home (where they have a 51-29 record) after Sunday’s game, the Cardinals have a favorable schedule for a strong finish. They will be playing a pair of clubs (the Cubs and Diamondbacks) that are a combined 48 games below .500. Pittsburgh heads to Atlanta for four games before finishing the regular season in Cincinnati.

Also still in play is the opportunity to secure home-field advantage for the NL Division Series. While the Nationals, barring a free fall this week, are poised to lock down home-field advantage throughout the postseason by finishing with the NL’s best record, the Cardinals trail the current No. 2 seed, Los Angeles, by only a game heading into Sunday’s play.

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September 20: Reds (71-83) @ Cardinals (86-68)

Jenifer Langosch/

wpid-img_20140920_144701066.jpgWhile the Cardinals have a magic number of seven to clinch the National League Central, they can actually officially claim a postseason berth tonight with a win over the Reds and a Brewers loss to the Pirates. That would ensure the Cardinals of no worse than a second Wild Card berth.

Of course, the Cardinals, with eight games remaining and a 2.5-game lead over Pittsburgh, have their eyes set on bigger things. That’s why you will see a subdued celebration (if one at all) once that wild card spot is secured.

Matt Carpenter and Matt Adams are both out of the lineup due to a stomach illness that is making its way through the clubhouse. Manager Mike Matheny said that both were being quarantined this afternoon. It will be an at-the-moment decision as to whether either is feeling improved enough to contribute later in the game.

It’s unfortunate timing for Adams, who is 8-for-18 with four doubles in his career against Reds starter Mike Leake.

Starting at first base in Adams’ place will be Yadier Molina, who will be making his fourth career start (first of 2014) at the position. The Cardinals wanted to give him a day off from behind the plate, so this was a way to still keep him in the lineup. Matheny went with Tony Cruz over A.J. Pierzynski as a nod to Cruz’s performance on Thursday and his career numbers (4-for-7) against Leake.

A reminder that tonight’s game will be on FOX Sports 1 (not Fox Sports Midwest). Tomorrow’s home finale is an ESPN Sunday night broadcast.

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September 18: Brewers (79-73) @ Cardinals (84-68)

Jenifer Langosch/

wpid-img_20140918_154622351.jpgThe Cardinals host the Brewers tonight for the final game of the season and have an opportunity to all but knock Milwaukee out of the National League Central mix with a win. The Brewers trail the Cardinals by five games in the division. Pittsburgh is sandwiched between at 2.5 games back.

Since this time of year is all about magic numbers, here are the two you need to know:

* SIX: The magic number for the Cardinals to clinch a postseason berth (in other words, at least a spot in the Wild Card game)

* NINE: The magic number for the Cardinals for the Cardinals to win the division.

Not much other news to report here from Busch Stadium this afternoon. Shelby Miller makes his 30th start tonight and looks to continue his September roll (20 innings pitched, 1 earned run, three starts). The Brewers have yet to solve Miller, who is 5-0 with a 2.30 ERA in seven career starts against Milwaukee.

In a bit of housekeeping news, a reminder that the quickest and easiest way to get the Cardinals lineup each day is through my Facebook page. (Link here) I can upload it a photo there immediately after snapping it amid, so that’s the first place it goes.

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September 7: Cardinals (78-64) @ Brewers (74-68)

Jenifer Langosch/

wpid-img_20140907_101113773.jpgThe Cardinals will close out their final regular-season visit to Milwaukee today with a chance to further separate themselves from the Brewers in the NL Central standings. The Cardinals’ lead currently sits at four games… with the Pirates only a half game behind the Brewers after winning their first two games against the Cubs.

Matt Holliday is out of the lineup today for a reason not yet disclosed. I’ll provide an update after manager Mike Matheny has his daily gathering with the media. Yadier Molina continues to play daily, underscoring that his thumb is giving him no problems. Molina did jam his thumb against his bat in the ninth inning on Saturday, but Matheny said after the game that the bat hit a different area of the thumb than what was surgically repaired.

Jhonny Peralta’s next hit will be the 1500th of his career — so keep an eye out for that possibly happening here at Miller Park this afternoon.

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September 6: Cardinals (77-64) @ Brewers (74-67)

Jenifer Langosch/

wpid-img_20140906_135050753.jpgAfter nursing an oblique strain for two days, Matt Adams returns to the lineup and immediately back into the cleanup spot as the Cardinals face the Brewers on Saturday. Though Adams is coming off the injury and a 6-for-45 skid, manager Mike Matheny has said he likes sticking with Adams in the lineup’s fourth spot as a way to give Adams a vote of confidence.

Oscar Taveras gets the start over Peter Bourjos on Saturday, perhaps a nod to Taveras’ fine showing in a pinch-hit appearance on Friday. Taveras worked a nine-pitch at-bat before delivering an RBI single. Afterward, Matheny described the at-bat as one of Taveras’ best this season.

Jon Jay seems to have found a home in the two-hole (a good fit for him given his OBP). His .321 batting average would rank first in the National League if Jay had enough plate appearance. Right now he would need 437 to qualify; he has 392.

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September 5: Cardinals (77-63) @ Brewers (73-67)

Jenifer Langosch/

wpid-img_20140905_151313381.jpgThe Cardinals would not have won the series opener without the defense of Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay on Thursday, and that has prompted manager Mike Matheny to keep both in the lineup again on Friday. For Bourjos, it’s his fourth consecutive start.

Matt Adams (left oblique strain) remains out of the lineup, though it is Daniel Descalso (not Xavier Scruggs) taking his place on Friday. Descalso is 2-for-6 in his career against Brewers starter Mike Fiers, who has allowed seven runs over his five starts (35 innings) with Milwaukee this season.

The Cardinals are riding a season-best, six-game winning streak, which also matches their longest such streak from the 2013 season (accomplished twice). The last time this club won seven in a row was from July 7-21, 2010, when the team reeled off eight consecutive wins.

Conversely, the Brewers have dropped nine straight and are looking to avoid the franchise’s first 10-game losing streak since 2006.

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September 4: Cardinals (76-63) @ Brewers (73-66)

Jenifer Langosch/

wpid-img_20140904_155259956.jpgXavier Scruggs, summoned from Memphis today, won’t have to wait long for his Major League debut. Manager Mike Matheny has him in tonight’s starting lineup, batting seventh. He takes the place of Matt Adams, who looks like he could use some rest amid a 5-for-44 skid. Instead of waiting to substitute Scruggs for Adams when the team faces a lefty (Scruggs hit .350 against left-handed pitching in Triple-A), he’ll draw righty Wily Peralta in his first assignment.

Adams is 2-for-14 in his career against Peralta.

UPDATE: General manager John Mozeliak just informed the media that Adams tweaked his left oblique on his final swing yesterday, necessitating a quicker-than-expected call-up for Scruggs. Adams is day-to-day.

The Cardinals arrive in Milwaukee enjoying the comforts of being in the NL Central driver’s seat. In the span of six days, the club went from trailing the Brewers by 1 1/2 games to leading the division by three. Worst case scenario, the Cardinals leave Milwaukee on Sunday night trailing by one game. But if the club wins any one of the four games, it is guaranteed to finish the series in first.

Michael Wacha makes his much-anticipated return to the mound tonight after 11 weeks away nursing a stress reaction in his right shoulder. There remain questions about his command and the crispness of his pitches, though the organization felt comfortable enough to forgo having him make a second rehab start. Wacha will likely not exceed a pitch count of 60 tonight. Look for Marco Gonzales to enter behind him.

Other items of note: Peter Bourjos will make his third straight start, while Oscar Taveras is out of the lineup for a third straight day. … Jon Jay, who is tied with Matt Carpenter for second on the team in OBP (.375), moves up to the two-spot in the lineup, a place that he should fill well given that propensity to get on base. Quite frankly, I’m a bit surprised Matheny hasn’t bumped him up there sooner. … Yadier Molina is starting for the seventh straight day, so it appears his thumb is holding up well.

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Scruggs earns his first Major League callup

Jenifer Langosch/

Xavier Scruggs will join the Cardinals in Milwaukee on Thursday to give the club additional coverage at first base behind Matt Adams.

Scruggs, 26, was expected to be among the organization’s second wave of players called up when Triple-A Memphis’ postseason run ended. It seems, though, that Adams’ recent struggles prompted a speeding up of that timetable. Since hitting a home run on August 22 (his first homer in more than a month), Adams has been on a 5-for-44 skid during which he’s collected one extra-base hit and struck out 14 times.

Manager Mike Matheny recently spelled Adams a day off, but Matheny has been limited in replacement options since the club dealt Allen Craig to the Red Sox. Daniel Descalso and Mark Ellis, who was just cleared to return after nursing an oblique injury, were Adams’ primary backups. Neither is a natural first baseman.

Scruggs, who will be making his Major League debut when he takes the field, spent the entire 2014 season with Memphis, where he hit .286/.370/.494 with 29 doubles, 21 homers and 87 RBIs. He ranked fifth in the Pacific Coast League in RBIs, seventh in runs scored (82) and 14th in extra-base hits (53). Scruggs ended the PCL regular season by hitting safely in 38 of his last 50 games.

Scruggs will join Randal Grichuk as another right-handed power bat off the bench for Matheny. He hit .350 against left-handed pitching this season, compared to a .259 mark against righties.

The Cardinals have not announced what corresponding roster move they will make in order to add Scruggs to the 40-man roster. While the club does have one current opening on its 40-man roster, it is needed for Michael Wacha, who will be coming off the 60-day disabled list in advance of his start against the Brewers on Thursday.

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August 30 (Game 2): Cubs (61-74) @ Cardinals (71-63)

Jenifer Langosch/

wpid-img_20140830_181707785.jpgIf the Cardinals want to earn a split of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Cubs, it will have to come behind Marco Gonzales, who was summoned as the “26th man” for the day. He’ll return to Triple-A Memphis after the game, ready to help the Redbirds if they advance into the postseason.

First, however, he will try to help the Cardinals get some semblance of positive momentum. The team has lost six of eight and risks falling into a second-place tie with the Pirates if the Cardinals lose tonight. (Pittsburgh defeated the Reds, 3-2, earlier today).

Gonzales made three starts for the Cardinals earlier this season, but is still seeking his first Major League win. He’s also yet to pitch beyond the fifth inning. Fortunately, Tyler Lyons was able to save the bullpen with his extended relief effort, so the Cardinals do have coverage behind Gonzales.

Of course, the Game 2 outcome doesn’t lie solely on Gonzales’ shoulders. The Cardinals’ offense has been dormant over the past week, scoring 10 runs over the last six games. The Cubs have blasted seven home runs in this series, which is the Cardinals’ team total over their last 18 games. St. Louis is 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position in this series.

Kolten Wong, Peter Bourjos, Oscar Taveras and Yadier Molina are each starting Game 2 after being out of the Game 1 lineup. Daniel Descalso gets a second start, this time spelling Jhonny Peralta at short.

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August 30 (Game 1): Cubs (60-74) @ Cardinals (71-62)

Jenifer Langosch/

wpid-img_20140830_121137205.jpgWeather permitting, the Cardinals and Cubs will play two at Busch Stadium today as the Cards look to rebound after being overpowered by the Cubs’ youngsters on Friday. It looks like the Cubs are positioned to play a sizeable role in the outcome of the National League Central, as their new-look club has six games remaining against each of the three contending teams. The Cardinals, after a 5-1 homestand, have since lost five of seven. They’re fortunate that the Brewers have lost three straight and therefore been unable to expand upon a 1.5-game lead.

There are some starting pitching concerns for the Cardinals today, as they are sending out two pitchers (Justin Masterson, game 1; Marco Gonzales, game 2) who have had trouble pitching deep. Of course, Gonzales’ big-league sample size is tiny (three games). The Cardinals have long relievers Nick Greenwood and Tyler Lyons in the ‘pen for help, so there is some coverage. The added wrinkle could be the weather, as it is supposed to rain on and off for most of the day. The Cards (and Cubs) could be in a bind if in-game delays force them into their bullpen earlier than expected.

As for Masterson, he is pitching for his rotation spot today. Now a month into his tenure with the Cardinals, Masterson has given the Cardinals just one strong start (out of five). He has worked to simplify his mechanics again, but if the Cubs knock him around this afternoon, it is hard to envision the Cardinals giving him another start during an important final month.

Manager Mike Matheny noted that all 12 position players will get a start in one of the two games today. That means you can expect to see Yadier Molina behind the plate, Oscar Taveras and Peter Bourjos in the outfield, and Kolten Wong back at second base in Game 2. Molina’s familiarity with Gonzales and A.J. Pierzynski’s working relationship with Masterson played into the decision to have Molina start the second game.

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