September 28: Cardinals (89-72) @ D-backs (64-97)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140928_105433350.jpgOnce again, the Cardinals have an opportunity to take the NL Central title — and they don’t need any help to do it if they can defeat the Majors’ worst team behind Adam Wainwright. Of course, the Cardinals wouldn’t mind help, and there is the chance that by the time Wainwright takes the mound, the outcome of the game won’t matter. If the Reds beat the Pirates, the Cardinals are assured a division title regardless how things go at Chase Field on Sunday.

If you want to keep an eye on that Pirates-Reds game (which is already in progress), the game is available free on MLB.TV.

Matt Holliday returns to the Cardinals’ lineup after being pulled midgame last night due to flu-like symptoms. Manager Mike Matheny noted after Saturday’s game that Holliday has been dealing with an illness and fever for a few days.

If the Pirates win and the Cardinals lose, the two teams will meet in a tiebreaker game at Busch Stadium on Monday. The Cardinals have been told that the start time for that game would be 6:37 pm CT.

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September 27: Cardinals (89-71) @ D-backs (63-97)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140927_142605083.jpgWith one Ramon Santiago swing some 1800 miles away, the Cardinals used the Reds’ assistance to set up a potential champagne celebration at Chase Field on Saturday.

Manager Mike Matheny may have promised not to distract himself by watching the Pirates’ games this weekend, but his players and staff apparently couldn’t resist Saturday afternoon. With the Reds and Pirates meeting in an afternoon game three time zones away, the game played on the television as Cardinal players trickled in before a night game against the D-backs.

With the Cardinals entering Saturday holding a one-game lead over the Pirates in the National League Central, they got a boost from the Reds, who mustered a come-from-behind, 10-6, win on Santiago’s walk-off grand slam with two out in the 10th. It was Santiago’s first grand slam in his 11-year career, and it reduced the Cardinals’ magic number to one.

That means a win behind Lance Lynn on Saturday will secure a second straight division title for St. Louis. If the Cardinals can’t take care of business on Saturday, they’ll have Adam Wainwright on the mound in Sunday’s season finale.

For you out of market folks, tonight’s Cardinals’ game is free on MLB.TV, so you can tune in to watch the potential clincher. You’ll notice that Mark Ellis is making a rare start tonight. Look no further than the matchup for an explanation, as Ellis is 10-for-24 with four homers off Wade Miley in his career.

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September 26: Cardinals (88-71) @ D-backs (63-96)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

wpid-img_20140926_165441451.jpgThe Cardinals still control their own playoff destiny, but they gave themselves little breathing room by losing two of three in Chicago. Meanwhile, the Pirates continue to win and with their latest victory on Thursday have pulled to within one game of the Cardinals. That means there is a chance that we have a tie atop the National League Central as early as the end of the night.

The Pirates finish their season with three games against the Reds, who will be without Aroldis Chapman, Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton (all related to injuries) all weekend. Reds manager Bryan Price did reach out to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (via the teams’ PR staffs) to let him know that the Reds will play to win this weekend.

If there were to be a tie between the Pirates and Cardinals after Sunday, the two teams would meet in a one-game playoff on Monday in Busch Stadium. The Cardinals have already put tickets on sale for that game but have not yet announced a start time for it.

As for Game 160 today, Jon Jay has returned from his personal leave and is back in the lineup, batting second. Michael Wacha returns to the mound for a fourth start post-surgery and the final time before the Cardinals have to decide if/how he fits into the club’s postseason picture. Wacha should no longer be limited in pitch count. The biggest question remaining is whether his changeup can become a weapon again right now.

The D-backs will be managed by Alan Trammell this weekend, as he fills in for Kirk Gibson, who was fired by Tony La Russa (chief baseball officer) earlier today. Trammell, who was Gibson’s bench coach, was also relieved of his duties, but agreed to stay on for three more days to manage.

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September 24: Cardinals (89-70) @ Cubs (70-89)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com wpid-img_20140924_160456293.jpg

The Cardinals close out their three-game visit to Wrigley Field with a critical game tonight (7:05 pm CT first pitch). Pittsburgh has pulled to within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals by going 15-3 since being swept in St. Louis. In order to hold the Pirates off, the Cardinals need some combination of four wins/Pittsburgh losses.  The Pirates will play on Thursday, which is an off day for the Cardinals.

Keep in mind that if the two teams were to tie atop the division after 162 games, they would meet in St. Louis on Monday to play a one-game tiebreaker. The winner takes the division. The loser goes to the Wild Card game.

The Cardinals will be without Jon Jay tonight as he had to leave the team due to a personal matter. The club expects Jay to rejoin the team in Arizona in time for Friday’s series opener.

Also, this will be John Lackey’s final start of the regular season for the Cardinals. He pitched well on extra rest his last time out but (depending on how Michael Wacha fares later this week) could need another strong performance tonight to solidify a spot in the postseason rotation.

And if you’re watching the game from home, be sure to take in the view of the stadium outfield. The Cubs are beginning stadium renovations tomorrow, and the first phase will include an expansion of the outfield bleachers and the addition of signage and a video board. The Cardinals just so happen to play the last game at Wrigley Field as it is now and will be the first in it next Opening Day. Follow me on Twitter (@LangoschMLB), Instagram (LangoschMLB) and Facebook (Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com)

Cardinals clinch a postseason berth

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

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/MLB.com

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/MLB.com

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 Cardinals.com 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/MLB.com

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/MLB.com

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/MLB.com

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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