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Cardinals clinch playoff berth with Nationals loss

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

MVP candidate Yadier Molina has led the Cardinals to the postseason for the third straight year.
MVP candidate Yadier Molina has led the Cardinals to the postseason for the third straight year. (USATSI)

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Even though they don't play until Sunday night, the Cardinals clinched at a playoff spot on Sunday afternoon thanks to the Nationals' 4-2 loss to the Marlins. St. Louis will be, at worst, a wild-card team.

The Cardinals are going to the postseason for the third straight year and the fourth time in the last five years. They lost in the NLDS in 2009, won the World Series in 2011, and lost in the NLCS in 2012. St. Louis has won seven of their last nine postseason series, not including last year's wild-card play-in game.

Manager Mike Matheny's teams feature a deep lineup that leads the league with 752 runs scored. Three of their regulars are hitting .310 or better (Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig) and five are hitting .295 or better (Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran). Carpenter leads baseball in hits (194), runs (121) and doubles (54) during his first season as a full-time second baseman. Slugger Matt Adams has 16 home runs and a 131 OPS+ off the bench.

On the mound, Matheny has three starters with a sub-3.20 ERA (Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly) even though Chris Carpenter is out for the season with continued injury problems. Edward Mujica is getting a break from the closer's job due to some recent struggles, but the team still boasts a deep bullpen thanks to Trevor Rosenthal, Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness. Siegrist has a 0.48 ERA in 37 1/3 innings.

Of course, the super-deep Cardinals are surely looking for much more than a wild-card berth. They came into Sunday leading the NL Central by two games over the Pirates with seven games to play. Any combination of Cardinals wins and Pirates losses totaling six will give St. Louis their first division title since 2009.

The Cardinals have won 90+ games three times in the last five years and and have not had a losing season since 2007.

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