Cardinals' Path to the Postseason: Sept. 14, 2012

Cardinals' Path to the Postseason: Sept. 14, 2012

LOS ANGELES -- The Cardinals' recent free fall came to a halt on Thursday with a 2-1 win that not only put them back on track but also padded their Wild Card lead. By sending the Dodgers to their seventh loss in eight games, the Cardinals improved their cushion for the second National League Wild Card spot to two games.

"It was definitely a dogfight after that series in San Diego was tough," said Allen Craig, who delivered the go-ahead RBI with two outs in the seventh. "To be a part of a close game, the crowd had a lot of energy. It was almost like a playoff atmosphere. To come out on top was good for our team."

Another three games remain in this series at Dodger Stadium, a series that the Cardinals can use to distance themselves from a reeling Los Angeles club. And there are potential tiebreaker scenarios to keep in mind. Should the Cardinals and Dodgers finish in a tie for the second Wild Card, the host of a play-in game would be determined by the head-to-head record. That season series record is now 4-4.

The Cardinals increased their separation with other contenders on Thursday, as well. Idle Pittsburgh (three games) and Milwaukee (3 1/2 games) dropped another half-game back. The Phillies loom four games behind St. Louis after having their seven-game winning streak snapped.

"There's an urgency -- I'm wearing that word out -- but every day is either taking us towards or away from what we need to do," manager Mike Matheny said. "We know that every game is a playoff atmosphere. It was fun here tonight with the electricity in this stadium. It was like a playoff game. The fans were into it, and it was a great game. Obviously, afterward having the result go our way was huge."

Today's key games to watch (all times ET)

Cardinals (Kelly, 5-6) at Dodgers (Capuano, 11-10), 10:10 p.m. Preview >

Pirates (McDonald, 12-7) at Cubs (Rusin, 0-2), 2:20 p.m. Preview >

Reds (Arroyo, 12-7) at Marlins (Turner, 1-3), 7:10 p.m. Preview >

Nationals (Detwiler, 9-6) at Braves (Medlen, 8-1), 7:35 p.m. Preview >

Phillies (Hamels, 14-6) at Astros (Gonzalez, 2-0), 8:05 p.m. Preview >

Mets (Niese, 10-9) at Brewers (Friers, 9-7), 8:10 p.m. Preview >

Giants (Cain, 13-5) at D-backs (Skaggs, 1-1), 9:40 p.m. Preview >

If the postseason started today ...

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Wild Card: Second Wild Card at First Wild Card
Division Series: Second-best AL record vs. Third-best AL record | Best AL record at Wild Card winner

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Wild Card: Second Wild Card at First Wild Card
Division Series: Second-best NL record vs. Third-best NL record | Best NL record at Wild Card winner

Postseason Bracket »

Postseason 101

Magic numbers
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.

Tiebreaker scenarios
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.

If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.

Tiebreaker rules »

2012 postseason schedule
Wild Card playoff games: Oct. 5
Division Series: Oct. 6-12
AL Championship Series: Oct. 13-21
NL Championship Series: Oct. 14-22
World Series: Oct. 24-Nov. 1

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.