With the Nationals loss yesterday, the Cardinals officially clinched a playoff spot. However, there was no celebrating as the team remains focused on winning the division.
The Cardinals were able to increase their NL Central lead to 2 games by taking 2 of 3 from the Brewers over the weekend while the Reds took 2 of 3 from the Pirates.
With 6 games to play, the Cardinals magic number to clinch the Central is 5.
First up, the Cards will have to deal with a Nationals team that is fighting for their playoff lives. With an elimination number of 2, the Nats can ill afford to lose any more games, which should make for an interesting series.
In addition, the Cardinals are only 1 1/2 games behind the Braves for the best record in the NL and thus home field advantage. But, first things first, the Cardinals need to clinch the division before they even think about that.
The Pirates and Reds get a little break from each other as they get to square off against the lowly Cubs and Mets, respectively. If the Cards struggle against the Nats, while the Pirates and Reds are beating up on the bottom-feeders, things could get interesting in a hurry.
Obviously, there is a big difference between winning the division and the Wild Card, ever since the second Wild Card team was added last year. Now the Wild Card teams play a single game elimination before the winner squares off against a division winner. The Cardinals would obviously prefer to be in a 5 game playoff situation rather than a one-and-done game.
In any case, this is what baseball is all about. Playoff chases coming down to the wire and fans on the edge of their seats. No one will ever forget the final day of the 2011 season and, while I won't guarantee that this season will be more exciting than that, its shaping up to be another memorable finish.