The St. Louis Cardinals have made a habit in recent years of reaching the postseason

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And this year they reached the playoffs for the 10th time in the past 14 seasons. Included in that total was their 12th division title when they beat the Chicago Cubs 7-0 at Busch Stadium on Friday night.

“It’s extremely special,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of winning the National League Central.

The Cardinals overcame injuries to players including Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Rafael Furcal and Jason Motte this season and fought off the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds for the division crown.

“We’re all embracing this and understanding what we’ve accomplished,” Cardinals third baseman David Freese said. “We’ve been through so much.”

Not only did the Cardinals win the division, but they also clinched the best record in the NL and home-field advantage by winning six straight and 10 of their last 12. They blanked the Cubs again, 4-0, on Sunday.

St. Louis finished the regular season with a 97-65 record, topping the Atlanta Braves by one game, and tying the Boston Red Sox for the best record in the major leagues. The Cardinals will host the NL wild-card game winner on Thursday in Game 1 of an NL divisional series.

This is the third straight playoff appearance for the Cardinals, who last won a World Series in 2011.

Cubs not so hot: For the Cardinals NL Central rival Chicago Cubs, things didn’t end so well. The Cubs went 3-12 in their last 15 games, 18-41 in their last 59 and finished last in the division at 66-96. They lost the season-series to St. Louis 12-7, including the last five games, and were outscored in those last five 27-3, getting shutout three times.

“We didn’t score a lot,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “When you’re facing the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates Atlanta, it’s going to be tough.”

And it was tough on Sveum on Monday, as the Cubs fired him after he posted a 127-197 record in two seasons.

Chicago watched an opponent either clinch a division title or playoff berth three times in the last week. The Braves won the NL East on Sept. 22 at Wrigley Field; the Pirates clinched a wild-card spot at Wrigley on Sept. 23, along with the Cardinals clinching on Sept. 27.

This is the fifth consecutive season that the Cubs have missed the playoffs, and the fourth straight year they finished fifth in the NL Central. The Cubs wouldn’t have finished last in the division if it weren’t for the Houston Astros (51-111) moving to the American League this year.

It’s now been 68 years since the Cubs last appeared in a World Series, and 105 years since they last won it.

Tigers win AL Central, again: The Detroit Tigers earned their third straight American League Central division title last week by defeating Minnesota 1-0.

“For us to be able to do it three straight years now is really special and a testament to the talent in our clubhouse,” said Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, who won his 21st game of the season.

Before this three-year run, Detroit hadn’t won a division championship since 1987. The only other division titles that 68-year-old Tigers manager Jim Leyland won were also three straight, from 1990-92 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Leyland won a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997, along with two AL pennants.

“I just don’t think people realize how hard it is to win,” an emotional Leyland said after the Tigers clinched last week.

The Tigers, who were swept by the San Francisco Giants in last year’s World Series, will be seeking their first World Series title since 1984.

StatsWatch: Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter just missed reaching 200 hits this season, ending with 199. He became just the fifth player in major league history to lead his team in hits, doubles and runs, joining such company as Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. Here are Carpenter’s stats and team ranking this season:

Matt Carpenter, 2B, Cardinals, 2013 regular-season stats, team rank –

  • 199 hits (1st)
  • 126 runs (1st)
  • 55 doubles (1st)
  • 72 walks (1st)
  • .392 on-base percentage (1st)
  • 301 total bases (1st)
  • .318 average (2nd)
  • .481 slugging percentage (4th)
  • 78 RBI (5th)
  • 11 HR (6th)

Quotable: “We stayed away from chicken and beer.” – Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, on his club’s 10-0 finish to make the postseason, and joking about the 2011 season when his Boston team collapsed in September. The Red Sox clubhouse that year was characterized as a fraternity that drank beer and ate chicken during games.

Diamond Notes: New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman wants Joe Girardi to return as manager next season. Girardi’s contract expires at the end of October. The Yankees finished 85-77 this season, their worst record since 1992, and out of the playoffs…Royals manager Ned Yost agreed to a two-year contract extension on Tuesday after Kansas City went 86-76 this season, the best finish for the franchise since 1989…Mets manager Terry Collins was given a two-year contract extension, and Ron Gardenhire was also given a two-year extension by the Minnesota Twins.

Copyright ã 2013 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.

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