Even though the St. Louis Cardinals have officially clinched the NL Central title, manager Tony La Russa will not let them even whisper the word champagne.
Not until they make sure nobody can finish with the same number of wins.
Needing one more victory to reach their manager’s mandate, the Cardinals will continue their series with the Chicago Cubs.
On Thursday, the Cardinals clinched their fourth Central title in six years, but the celebration was delayed that night and then again on Friday after they suffered a 5-3 loss to the Cubs.
The Cardinals would win the division on a tiebreaker over second-place Houston if both teams finish with 94 wins, but La Russa won’t be satisfied until that number grows by one.
“Eventually, it’s going to happen,” third baseman Abraham Nunez said.
The responsibility of ending the suspense will fall on the left arm of Mark Mulder.
Unlike last season, when he went 0-4 with a 7.27 ERA in his last seven starts—a big reason why the Oakland Athletics missed the playoffs—Mulder is 5-2 with a 2.30 ERA in 11 starts since the All-Star break.
He’s been even better over his last five starts, going just 2-1, but with two complete games and a 1.06 ERA.
The Cubs would like to keep the Cardinals waiting, and at the same time give veteran Greg Maddux a chance to continue his run toward yet another milestone.
Though he needs to win each of his final three starts, Maddux still has a shot to post 15 wins for the 18th consecutive season.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve had my chances and I still have a chance, too,” Maddux said of the streak. “I mean you got to play the game the right way. I just want to get ready and do what I can to throw a good game.”
Maddux allowed two runs and five hits over seven innings on Monday, but was on the short end of a 5-2 defeat to Cincinnati.