ST. LOUIS -- While the Cardinals still have their sights set on the organization's first division title since 2009, the club could be just days away from first clinching, at minimum, a spot in the National League Wild Card game. Home-field advantage through the League Championship Series remains up for grabs as well.
Despite falling, 4-1, to the Mariners on Saturday, the Cardinals' magic number shrunk to seven with Washington also losing. That means that any combination of seven Cardinal wins and/or losses by the Nationals -- who sit five and half games out of the second Wild Card spot -- would ensure the Cardinals a playoff berth.
At earliest, the Cardinals could clinch their spot on Wednesday.
"We know they're in there and figured they would be, too. They're a good club," manager Mike Matheny said of Washington, which entered Saturday riding a seven-game winning streak. "They've got plenty of pitching and one of the most athletic lineups in baseball, in my opinion. We knew they just weren't going to go away. But how I view that whole thing is just take care of ourselves."
The Cardinals are also trying to creep up on the Braves, who have held the NL's best record since Aug. 4. Atlanta, with its 89th on Saturday, sits three wins ahead of the Cardinals, Pirates and Dodgers.
The club that finishes with the league's best record gets the benefits of home-field advantage in both the Division Series and LCS. That team would meet the winner of the play-in Wild Card Game in the NLDS.
If the Cardinals were to finish the season with the same record as the Dodgers and/or Braves, they would not have the tiebreaker against either team for home-field advantage. That is determined by head-to-head records, and the Cardinals lost their season series against both Los Angeles (3-4) and Atlanta (3-4).
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.