The St. Louis Cardinals hope to complete their bid for the National League Central title when they host the Chicago Cubs in their season-closing series beginning Friday night.
The Cardinals (90-69) lead the second-place Milwaukee Brewers (89-70) by a single game. The Brewers visit the Colorado Rockies (68-90) for three games to finish their season.
The division race tightened when the Cardinals lost their last two road games against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Pressure’s either felt or pressure’s applied,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt told reporters after Wednesday’s 9-7 loss. “This group doesn’t particularly enjoy feeling any pressure, we like to apply it. We’ll play like we played all year, and we embrace the opportunity. We look forward to getting home and playing on Friday night.”
The Cardinals have clinched at least a spot in the wild-card game against the Washington Nationals (90-69), but they would like to avoid that single-elimination showdown as well as a potential tiebreaking Game 163 against the Brewers.
Shildt will start Dakota Hudson (16-7, 3.45 ERA) Friday at Busch Stadium. Hudson lasted just three innings on Sept. 21 in his only start against the Cubs this season, won by the Cardinals 9-8.
He allowed three runs on three hits and four walks in that game. Hudson needed 62 pitches to get nine outs.
In his career, Hudson has a 6.23 ERA in three appearances against the Cubs.
Last weekend the Cardinals swept the Cubs in four games at Wrigley Field to all but knock them out of the division race. Overall, the Cubs have lost nine consecutive games.
They are left trying to play spoiler to their arch-rival after missing the postseason for the first time since 2014.
“It’s definitely a stinging feeling,” Cubs pitcher Jon Lester told MLB.com. “It hasn’t happened too often for me, so it’s a weird feeling. But, I mean, we as a group just flat-out didn’t get it done this last month. Other teams did. Other teams played better than us. It sucks. It sucks going forward.”
The Cubs will start Alec Mills (1-0, 2.90 ERA) in the series opener. In his only appearance against the Cardinals this season, he held them scoreless for 4 2/3 innings on Sept. 20 — in a game the Cubs lost 2-1.
Mills has no record and a 2.08 ERA in three career outings against them.
With the Cubs eliminated, manager Joe Maddon indicated he is likely to sit injured infielders Javier Baez (thumb fracture), Kris Bryant (sprained ankle) and Anthony Rizzo (sprained ankle).
Pitcher Cole Hamels (sore shoulder) expects to pitch a few innings in Saturday’s game, and Maddon may use Sunday’s game to run a parade of relievers to the mound. He is not concerned what the Brewers will think of his lineups.
“I will put out the guys that I think are the appropriate guys to play based on what’s good for our people, not for their people,” Maddon told reporters in Pittsburgh. “But we’re going to put a good team out there, regardless.”
For the Cardinals, second baseman Kolten Wong (hamstring strain) is questionable for this weekend.
–Field Level Media