ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' National League Central-clinching 7-0 victory over the Cubs on Friday didn't settle the full NL postseason picture, but it does begin to put the pieces into place.
The biggest relief for the Cardinals is that they do not have to return to the winner-moves-on NL Wild Card Game that the organization christened last October. That is now for Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to battle out, with the winner going on to face the NL team with the best record.
There is a chance that could still be St. Louis.
The Cardinals are assured no worse than the second seed among the three NL division winners. The Dodgers cannot catch them; only the Braves can top St. Louis. That guarantees the Cardinals of opening the NL Division Series at home next Thursday. They will host Games 1 and 2, travel elsewhere for Games 3 and 4, then return home for a decisive Game 5, should it be necessary.
For a team that is 52-27 at Busch Stadium this season, home-field advantage could be fortuitous.
Whom the Cardinals will face will be determined in the next two days.
St. Louis and Atlanta head into Saturday's action with identical 95-65 records. Because they lost the season series to the Braves, four games to three, the Cardinals must finish with a better record than Atlanta to face the NL Wild Card winner in the NLDS. If the two teams finish with the same number of wins, the Braves would leave the Cardinals to face the Dodgers.
Though the Cardinals' final two games of the season no longer have significance in the division race, they may still make a push to finish as the NL's top team.
"That wasn't necessarily on my goal sheet, but my goal sheet does have us going out to play every game to win," manager Mike Matheny said. "So we go out and continue to play hard. We don't do anything different. Now, what the personnel looks like, we have a lot of talking to do and a lot of decisions to make. But we're not backing off. I think you set yourself up for failure when you take away what we've been trying to build up all this time."
The Cardinals will not change their predetermined pitching plans despite Friday's clincher. Adam Wainwright will still start on Saturday and remains on track to pitch the first game of the NLDS. Joe Kelly will close the regular season with Sunday's start.
If the Cardinals have a preferred NLDS opponent, they haven't shown their hand. The club matches up similarly against all three potential foes. St. Louis lost season series to the Dodgers (4-3) and Pirates (10-9), while winning 11 of 19 against the Reds.
The Cardinals will turn their attention to the various scenarios on Saturday. On Friday, it was more about the moment.
"We've got to enjoy tonight and enjoy what we were able to accomplish this year, being division champs, especially with a division that had so many great teams," Jon Jay said. "Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, they had a great year. They've obviously made the playoffs. You know, it was a dogfight all the way to the end."
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.