ST. LOUIS -- For the first time since 2008, the Cubs can clinch the NL Central division title this week.
The Cardinals know it is going to happen -- they just don't want them to do it during the series in St. Louis.
To prevent that from happening, all the Cardinals have to do is win one of three games in the series that begins Monday night. A sweep by the Cubs would have them spraying champagne at Busch Stadium on Wednesday.
The Cubs arrive in town with a magic number of five after the Cardinals' 2-1 loss to the Brewers on Sunday and their 9-5 win Sunday night in Houston.
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"You never want anyone celebrating on your home field, even if they are not division rivals or anything," said Cardinals' pitcher Lance Lynn, who has not pitched this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. "You don't want anybody to clinch here. That's definitely something you don't want to see."
In recent years, the Cardinals have been the ones doing the celebrating. They have been to the postseason five consecutive years, and as the season winds down, know they will have to qualify as a wild-card team if they are going to extend that streak to six years.
The loss to the Brewers, which came on a ninth-inning home run by Ryan Braun off Kevin Siegrist, dropped the Cardinals a half game out of the second wild-card spot because of the Mets' 10-3 win over the Braves.
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Mike Leake will get the starting assignment for Monday night's game, which begins a stretch that will see the Cardinals play the Cubs and the Giants, who currently are in the first wild-card spot, in 10 of their next 13 games.
Kyle Hendricks, who leads the NL with a 2.07 ERA, will start for the Cubs.
Facing Hendricks will present the newest challenge for the Cardinals, who did not hit a home run on Saturday or Sunday, the first time they have gone two consecutive games without hitting a homer since Aug. 7-8. They lead the NL with 204 homers.
"We've got to figure out how to score more runs," said manager Mike Matheny. "We squared up two balls that almost all year have been gone. The ball wasn't jumping."
Playing, and winning, at home has been a problem for the Cardinals this season. Their loss Sunday was the 39th at home, the most since they moved into the current Busch Stadium in 2006. They have 10 games left at home in the regular season.
Last year, it was the Cardinals who won the division title, then saw their season end when they lost to the wild-card Cubs in the Division Series. The Cubs just want to win the division, then worry about the playoffs later.
"We're probably anxious to clinch as soon as possible," catcher Miguel Montero told the Chicago Sun-Times. "That gives you the extra excitement to just try to do too much, to try to win games and get the lead even bigger, and clinch, on this road trip."