The Cardinals clinched a spot in the postseason before they even took the field Sunday, but they're hardly content with the thought of another one-game playoff deciding their fate this October.
Heading into the season's final week, St. Louis still has its eyes set on winning the National League Central for the first time since 2009. The Cardinals' magic number over the Pirates and Reds is five, and they'll look to chip away at that figure Monday, when they return to Busch Stadium to start a three-game series against the Nationals.
Rest assured, manager Mike Matheny said, the Cardinals are going to push hard for the division crown, not coast into October as they rest up for the postseason.
"We have work ahead of us and things that we need to do here. Really, our mindset should be we have to go out and win every day," Matheny said. "Right now, we have a lot of games we have to win in the next [six] games."
The Nationals truly can't afford to lose, either. With six games remaining, Washington will enter play Monday five games behind Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for a Wild Card spot. The defending NL East champions' hopes are slim, but they're still alive. Interestingly, manager Davey Johnson said over the weekend that he was more intrigued by how the Cardinals were doing than the Reds-Pirates series.
"It would be nice to come in there and play well against them and tighten it up even further," Johnson said. "Nothing worse than thinking about winning a division then losing it and having a one-game playoff. That would be the absolute worst thing."
Not that Johnson and the Nationals have any sympathy for the Cardinals, who knocked them out last year in the fifth game of a dramatic NL Division Series.
"No, not really," Johnson said, smiling. "First of all, they swept us here, and then they didn't do us any favors last year. So I'd like to get back on an even-keel with them."
The Cardinals have a lot of things working in their favor. They'll finish out the season at home, where they have gone 48-27 this year, and they have ace Adam Wainwright heading to the mound Monday. Wainwright worked 7 2/3 innings Wednesday against the Rockies after allowing two runs in the first, leaving after striking out eight and giving up one more run.
Washington will counter with one of its hottest starters in right-hander Tanner Roark, thriving while filling in as the Nats' fifth starter. Roark improved to 7-0 this season with a win Tuesday against the Braves, lowering his ERA to just 1.08 on the season.
Nationals: Bullpen ready, 'all good' for stretch run
• While it helped to have Dan Haren and Stephen Strasburg pitch six innings apiece, Washington had to call upon seven relievers during Sunday's doubleheader. Right-hander Drew Storen was asked about having to weather that just before facing the Cardinals' tough offense and whether that will affect the bullpen. Suffice it to say he didn't sound too concerned.
"It's September, man. It's all good," Storen said. "We've got good depth down there. We've got a lot of confidence in our starters."
• The Nationals have won nine of their last 10 series since taking three of four at Wrigley Field from Aug. 19-22.
Cardinals: Hot-hitting Holliday scratched
• Matt Holliday, who has been St. Louis' hottest hitter as of late, was scratched Sunday night due to back spasms. Matheny said Holliday, who went 13-for-26 on the club's road trip, was available off the bench if needed, but the fact that he couldn't start calls into question whether he can play Monday.
Holliday was slated to bat third and start in left field. He was replaced by Shane Robinson when he couldn't loosen up enough while taking pregame swings.
Holliday had started all 55 of the Cardinals' games since coming off the disabled list on July 27, hitting .343 with a .429 on-base percentage and 44 RBIs during that stretch.
• Matheny said it's "too early" to say how the Cardinals could change up their rotation to prepare for the postseason. For now, they'll remain in order. With Thursday's off-day, St. Louis has the ability to pitch Wainwright on normal rest Saturday, and the club has made it clear that Wainwright would ideally start the first game of the postseason, whether it's Game 1 of the NLDS or the NL Wild Card game.
• Roark hasn't allowed a home run over his 41 2/3 innings pitched in the Majors.
• Wainwright needs only four strikeouts to match his single-season high of 213 in 2010. He's also 3 2/3 innings shy of tying the career-high 233 innings he threw in 2009.