MILWAUKEE -- A postseason berth was already guaranteed by the time the St. Louis Cardinals took the field Sunday night at Miller Park.
The Washington Nationals lost the first game of a day-night doubleheader against the Miami Marlins, clinching at least a wild-card spot for the Cardinals, who then stumbled in their quest to lock down the National League Central crown with a 6-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Thus, there was very little celebration after the game, though manager Mike Matheny did acknowledge the accomplishment while reminding his charges of the task at hand.
"It's tough timing after a loss like that and knowing we still have some work to do," Matheny said. "They got it. Everybody went around shaking hands and challenging each other to finish this thing right."
The Cardinals (91-65) remain two games ahead of both the Pittsburgh Pirates (89-67) and Cincinnati Reds (89-67) with six games remaining. The Cardinals' magic number to clinch the division is five.
St. Louis didn't help its own cause Sunday, committing three errors and allowing three unearned runs.
Jonathan Lucroy's first-inning double drove in Norichika Aoki. Lucroy moved to second on Aramis Ramirez's base hit, but when Carlos Gomez grounded back to the mound, Cardinals starter Joe Kelly hesitated a second before throwing to second, just long enough for Gomez to beat the relay to first and allowing a run to score.
Milwaukee (69-86) added two more runs in the second on two St. Louis errors.
Martin Maldonado reached on a throwing error by David Freese, and after a sacrifice bunt by Wily Peralta, scored on an Aoki double. Gennett then reached second on a throwing error by Joe Kelly, with Aoki coming home on the play to make it 4-0.
"That's really rare (for the Cardinals to make defensive miscues) when we play them," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "This just doesn't happen, so when we see it, it is kind of nice because they don't give us anything. For them to give us a couple of outs, then we bloop a ball in, we don't usually get to many bloops against them. So it was good, we got some breaks, and when you can score runs when you get a break, that's important."
Despite the early deficit, Kelly (9-5) pitched well and offered the Cardinals' bullpen some much-needed rest with a seven-inning outing. The right-hander gave up six runs (three earned) on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts. He threw 95 pitches.
"My stuff felt good," Kelly said. "I threw a lot of fastballs and got some contact early which allowed me to get a little deeper in the game. Obviously, me throwing away a ball didn't help. Just one of those games, and that kind of stuff happens. You have to move forward and move on to the next start."
Milwaukee starter Wily Peralta endured a less-than-impressive outing but pitched well enough to earn his second victory in a row and third in four starts.
Peralta (11-15) allowed three runs on five hits and five walks in five-plus innings. He struck out three, hit a batter and was threw a wild pitch.
He worked out of a jam in the fifth, loading the bases with two outs before getting hot-hitting Matt Adams to ground out to end the inning.
Peralta loaded the bases again in the sixth on consecutive singles by Yadier Molina, Freese and Daniel Descalso before giving way to Donovan Hand.
Hand gave up two sacrifice flies but officially pitched two scoreless innings.
After the game, Roenicke revealed that Peralta was dealing with a blister that hindered him earlier in the season.
"That's why he got so wild, that's why the velocities went down," Roenicke said. "He was trying to feel for it, and on his two-seamer it was hurting him, and (he was) trying to figure out how to get by with it."
Jim Henderson allowed a run in the ninth but still earned his 26th save of the season.
NOTES: Cardinals LF Matt Holliday was a late scratch due to back soreness. St. Louis 2B Matt Carpenter led off the third with a home run, his 11th of the year. ... The Brewers finished the season with a 37-44 record at Miller Park, their worst home record since 2004, when they went 36-45. ... Matheny is the second manager in franchise history to lead the Cardinals to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. ... Milwaukee was again without SS Jean Segura (hamstring) and OF Khris Davis (wrist). Roenicke said Segura might be available to pinch-hit sometime this week, and that Davis likely would return to the lineup early this week in Atlanta, where the Brewers will face two left-handed starters.