The celebrating is over for the St. Louis Cardinals—for now.
After becoming the first team to clinch their division, the defending NL champions will begin their quest to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs when they close out a four-game series with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Though the Cardinals officially clinched their fourth NL Central crown in six years via tiebreaker Thursday, manager Tony La Russa refused to let his team pop open the champagne until second-place Houston had no chance to tie for the division lead.
That happened Saturday, when the Cardinals picked up win No. 95 with a 5-1 victory over the Cubs.
“It never gets old having the opportunity to throw some champagne. This is so much fun,” St. Louis shortstop David Eckstein said during the Cardinals’ celebration in the visiting locker room at Wrigley.
With generous leads over respective NL division leaders Atlanta and San Diego, the Cardinals will likely breeze to their next goal. They can’t get home-field edge in the World Series, however, as the AL won that advantage by taking the All-Star game.
Chris Carpenter will be bidding for his major league-best 22nd win Sunday. He failed to reach that plateau Wednesday, allowing four runs and 11 hits over 6 1-3 innings in St. Louis’ 5-4 win over Pittsburgh. Carpenter, tied with Florida’s Dontrelle Willis for the big league lead in wins, didn’t get a decision, but remained unbeaten in his last 17 starts.
The Cardinals are 17-0 in those outings.
Carpenter’s last loss came in a 4-0 defeat to the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox on June 8.
The Cubs will counter with their staff ace this season, right-hander Carlos Zambrano, who is 2-0 with an 0.76 ERA in three starts against the Cardinals this year.