While the National League Central Division race was still in question at the start of this week, one thing was certain – the St. Louis Cardinals are going back to the playoffs

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Although the Cardinals have been hot, winning eight of 10 games through Monday, they backed into clinching their fourth straight postseason berth when the Milwaukee Brewers lost to Pittsburgh on Sunday. St. Louis lost 7-2 to Cincinnati at Busch Stadium on Sunday night before a crowd of 45,747, the Cardinals’ 52nd sellout of the season.

On Monday, St. Louis beat the Chicago Cubs 8-0 at Wrigley Field as Adam Wainwright joined Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Clayton Kershaw as the major leagues’ only 20-game winners. That gave the Cardinals a 2 ½-game lead over the Pirates with five games to play.

It wasn’t a sure thing that the Cardinals would reach the playoffs this season after losing to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series last fall. They trailed the Brewers in the NL Central for a good part of the season before climbing to the top of the Division as Milwaukee faded.

St. Louis trailed the Brewers in the standings on August 30 when it lost a fourth straight game in the first game of a doubleheader at home against the Cubs. But the Cardinals won Game 2 en route to winning six in a row and nine of 10 while the Brewers were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak. Milwaukee’s collapse continued by losing 13 of 14 games.

The Cardinals took two of three games over the Brewers last week to claim the season series 12-7.

St. Louis began play on Tuesday with an 88-69 record. The Cardinals continued a three-game series against the Cubs, and will end the regular season with a three-game set at Arizona in a bid to win their second consecutive division title.

Nationals, Orioles, clinch too: The Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles clinched their respective divisions on Sept. 16, only the third time since divisional play was introduced in 1969 that two teams from the same metro area clinched on the same date.

The Nationals sealed the NL East Division title with a 3-0 win over Atlanta.

“Nice to have it done,” Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “The sooner, the better.”

Baltimore won the AL East with an 8-2 victory over Toronto.

“It’s everything I hoped for, man,” said Orioles right-fielder Nick Markakis. “We worked hard all season long to get where we are now.”

StatsWatch: The St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs, since 1900:

  • 26 playoff appearances
  • 19 pennants
  • 11 world championships
  • 11 postseason appearances since 1996.
  • 2-1 record in the World Series since 2006.
  • 11-8 record in the World Series in franchise history.

Diamond Notes: Detroit Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who has been out since Aug. 9 with a strained right chest muscle, could be activated this week. Sanchez is 8-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 21 starts this season… Yankees center fielder Jacoby Elsbury suffered a mild right hamstring strain on Friday night, but said he hoped to return this week. Elsbury is batting .271 this season and leads the team with 70 RBIs… Florida Marlins ace Jose Fernandez will start throwing again on Oct. 1. Fernandez, the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, had season-ending Tommy John surgery on May 16. Fernandez is 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA in 28 career starts. He has 187 strikeouts in 172 and 2/3 innings pitched… The Atlanta Braves fired general manager Frank Wren on Monday, a day after the team was eliminated from the NL playoffs. Wren was in his 15th season with the Braves and seventh as GM. John Hart has been named interim GM. Hart previously was general manager of the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians.

Copyright © 2014 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.

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