Cardinals clinch home field in NL postseason
Playing at Busch Stadium has proved to be very beneficial to the St. Louis Cardinals this season -- and they made certain Sunday their home-field advantage would carry over into the National League Division Series.
A 4-0 win over the Chicago Cubs on the final day of the regular season assured the Cardinals they have the home-field advantage in both the division series and, if they advance, the National League Championship Series.
The Cardinals finished the year with the best record in the NL at 97-65, one game better than the Braves, as they tied their season high with a sixth consecutive win. They will host the winner of the wild-card game between the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates when the NLDS begins Thursday.
"The significance of home-field advantage is just that, it's an advantage," said manager Mike Matheny. "We're very proud of that; we're very proud of our record. It's something that we don't take lightly."
While Matheny tried to downplay the importance of finishing either first or second in the overall standings, his players knew what was at stake Sunday.
"Just from a pride standpoint, we had the best record in the National League," Matt Carpenter said. "We knew what was at stake, but you saw some guys get some rest, but we found a way to get it done."
About the only negative for the Cardinals on the day was that Carpenter went 0-for-4 and ended the season with 199 hits, going hitless in his final eight at-bats since Friday in an effort to become the first Cardinals player with 200 or more hits in a season since Albert Pujols in 2003.
Carpenter was willing to trade that disappointment for the top seed in the playoffs, knowing there is still a bigger goal at stake for the team.
"From an individual standpoint, 200 hits is a cool thing, but more importantly we won a big game today and we have the best record in the National League," Carpenter said. "Now the fun begins.
"We're playing as good of baseball as we've played all year. September is a big month for a lot of clubs and I would be willing to say that was our best month. We're hitting our stride and the timing is perfect."
After the Cardinals gave veteran Jake Westbrook the sentimental start in what likely was his last appearance in a St. Louis uniform, Joe Kelly came in at the start of the second inning and allowed just three hits over the next 5 1/3 innings. The Cardinals improved their season record at home to 54-27, winning 13 of their 15 home games this month.
Westbrook, who has an option on his contract for next season, made his first start since Aug. 21. He allowed a two-out double to Anthony Rizzo in his only inning. After the final out of the inning was a fly out to Carlos Beltran, Westbrook asked for and got the baseball.
Kelly, 10-5, struck out five and did not walk a batter. Jeff Samardzija took the loss for the Cubs, who finished the year with a 66-96 record, 31 games behind the Cardinals, in last place in the NL Central.
Chicago manager Dale Sveum will meet with team president Theo Epstein on Monday to learn if he will return in 2014.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it," Sveum said. "We'll find out in whatever it is, 12 hours, 15, whatever. But it's upon us."
Samardzija is hoping that Sveum will hold onto his job.
"He's a great guy; he's a great coach." Samardzija said. "You've just got to look at the thing as a whole and what's going on here. As a player you want consistency. You want to build those relationships and you want that to lean on. There are certain times you need that. It's not our call."
Kelly helped give the Cardinals the lead when he doubled and scored in the third, and a two-run fourth inning increased the lead to 3-0. Doubles by Matt Adams and Daniel Descalso produced the first run, and Descalso scored on a single by Shane Robinson. The Cardinals added their final run in eighth on an RBI double by Tony Cruz.
Relievers Randy Choate, Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrist finished off the shutout, combining to record the final eight outs of the game.
NOTES: Yadier Molina was in the Cardinals' starting lineup Sunday but was replaced by Cruz before the first pitch so he could get an extra ovation from the Busch Stadium crowd. ... Matt Holliday did not play for the Cardinals, allowing him to finish the season with an exact .300 batting average. He got to that level for the first time Saturday with his 22nd home run. ... The Cardinals will take Monday off and hold workouts Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for the first game of the division series Thursday.
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