Although the St. Louis Cardinals have stumbled this month, with some help they can be the first team in the majors to clinch a division title if they complete a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros on Wednesday night.
With an 11-2 win over Houston on Tuesday, St. Louis trimmed its magic number to clinch the NL Central to two. If Milwaukee beats Chicago on Wednesday and the Cardinals complete a sweep of this series, St. Louis (89-63) would win its first division title since 2006.
The Cardinals would be the second team to secure a postseason spot after the New York Yankees secured at least the AL wild card Tuesday.
Even if St. Louis is unable to make it happen Wednesday, it appears to be just a matter of when. The Cardinals have won four of five after losing five of their previous six games. They’ve scored 18 runs in this week’s two wins over Houston (70-81) after totaling 11 in their previous five contests.
“Everybody’s taking good at-bats,” Molina told the Cardinals’ official Web site. “That’s what we need. To finish strong, thinking of the postseason, that’s what we need to do.”
Houston, meanwhile, has lost nine in a row, scoring 20 runs in that span. Tuesday’s game was the second under interim manager Dave Clark after the Astros fired Cecil Cooper on Monday.
The Astros are 5-9 in the season series, but Clark is hoping to keep the Cardinals from clinching the division title.
“You don’t ever want that to happen in your own back yard,” he said. “We’re not going to make it easy for anyone. Really and truly, that would be an embarrassment to the game, and we’re not going to let that happen.”
John Smoltz(notes) (1-1, 3.21 ERA) will take the mound for St. Louis, facing the Astros for the first time since the final game of 2006, when he knocked them out of postseason contention while pitching for Atlanta.
Smoltz hasn’t earned a decision in his last two starts - both St. Louis wins. He gave up two runs in six innings of a 3-2 victory over the Cubs last Friday, pitching on 10 days’ rest because of shoulder tendinitis.
As a starter, the right-hander is 16-13 with a 2.96 ERA against the Astros.
After one relief appearance, Norris joined Houston’s rotation in August. The right-hander gave up two hits in seven innings of a 2-0 win at St. Louis on Aug. 2.
Norris allowed one run and three hits in five innings Friday, but didn’t get a decision in a 3-2 loss at Milwaukee.
The Cardinals are looking to sweep a three-game series in Houston for the first time since 2004.