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Cards Trounce Cubs 9-0 to Clinch First NL Central Title Since 2015

MLB: Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Although the Cardinals had already clinched a berth in the postseason, their entrant as a division winner or as a wild card club came down to today, the last game of the season. The Brewers had every chance to either win the division outright or at least force the Cards into playing a Game 163 Division Tiebreaker, but the Rockies beat the Brewers 11-7 on Friday night. Last night, the Brewers had the game won, but Sam Hilliard of the Rockies hit a game-tying HR off of Brewers’ closer Josh Hader. Trevor Story then walked it off with a HR off of Matt Albers in the 10th.

The Rockies helped set things up for today. A Cards win or a Brewers loss would give the Cards the NL Central Division. Only a Cards loss and a Brewers win would force a Game 163. For that reason, the Cards wanted to be sure to avoid a Game 163 and started Jack Flaherty on regular rest, bumping Miles Mikolas. Joe Maddon had actually been notified earlier in the weekend by GM Theo Epstein that he would not be retained as Cubs manager after this season. He had a bullpen game planned with lefty Derek Holland as the opener, and the Cards took full advantage to win the game easily and secure their first division title since 2015.

After Jack Flaherty retired the Cubs in order in the top of the 1st, Derek Holland walked Fowler on 4 pitches, then Tommy Edman worked a 3-2 walk. Paul Goldschmidt sharply grounded an outside fastball up the middle for a base hit to move Edman to 3rd and score Fowler to give the Cards a 1-0 lead.

Marcell Ozuna grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to score Edman and extend the Cards’ lead to 2-0. Yadier Molina walked. Matt Carpenter hit what he thought was a base hit through the right side, but Zobrist threw Molina out at 2nd base from right field, so Carpenter only got a fielder’s choice.

After Flaherty struck Kyle Schwarber out looking with a slider to start the top of the 2nd, Willson Contreras grounded a slider through the hole to left just past the glove of DeJong. Contreras tried for a double. DeJong continued to chase the ball and fired to 2nd base. Contreras beat the tag, but slid off the base and was called out, with the Cubs not challenging the play. Victor Caratini grounded to 1st base. Paul DeJong popped out to 1st base to start the bottom of the 2nd. Harrison Bader flied out to left. Flaherty helped himself out by lining a hanging slider to left for a base hit. Fowler then drove an outside slider over the left-center field wall for a 2-run HR to extend the Cards’ lead to 4-0.

Flaherty retired the Cubs in order in the top of the 3rd with a strikeout of Holland to end the inning. Edman made a great basket catch over his shoulder in shallow right field on Hoerner’s popup for the first out.

To lead off the top of the 3rd, Goldschmidt sharply grounded an inside 3-2 slider down the 3rd base line and off of Ian Happ’s glove at 3B for a base hit. Goldschmidt stole 2nd base with the count 1-1 on Ozuna. That’s only his 3rd steal of the year. Ozuna softly lined a hanging inside slider down the line in left for a long single to score Goldschmidt and extend the Cards’ lead to 5-0. Molina walked, and that’s already the 4th walk Holland has issued. Joe Maddon decided to remove the lefty Holland and bring in righty Duane Underwood to pitch to Matt Carpenter. Carpenter drove an 0-1 center-cut fastball over the bullpen in right-center for a 3-run HR to extend the Cards’ lead to 8-0.

Underwood then hit DeJong in the left arm with a pitch, and there’s still nobody out. Bader popped out to 3rd and Flaherty failed to get the sacrifice down, bunting foul with 2 strikes. Fowler flied out to center to end the inning.

Flaherty retired the Cubs in order in the top of the 4th with 1 strikeout. With 1 out in the bottom of the 4th, Goldschmidt lined a high fastball over the left-center field wall for a solo HR to give the Cards a 9-0 lead. Ozuna lined an inside fastball for a base hit to right. Carpenter struck out swinging at an elevated fastball to end the inning. Robel Garcia pinch hit for Schwarber in the top of the 5th and squibbed an inside fastball for an infield hit, beating out Carpenter’s throw. Contreras lined out to short. Caratini grounded into a 1-6-3 inning-ending double play despite Flaherty bouncing the throw to 2nd base. Flaherty has only thrown 46 pitches so far. For the bottom of the 5th, Garcia stayed in the game in LF. Righty James Norwood came in to pitch. After DeJong worked a 3-2 walk, Bader struck out. Flaherty hit for himself and flied out to right in foul territory. Fowler lined an outside fastball for a base hit to left. Edman flied out to the edge of the track in right-center to end the inning.

Flaherty retired the Cubs in order in the top of the 6th with 1 strikeout. He’s still only thrown 53 pitches. For the bottom of the 6th, Daniel Descalso came in to play 2B in the #8 spot, with Zobrist moving from 2B to SS. After both Goldschmidt and Ozuna struck out, Molina worked a 3-2 walk, but he was stranded there when Carpenter flied out to left. With 2 out in the top of the 7th, Happ worked a 3-2 walk. Garcia struck out swinging at a slider to strand Happ there and end the inning. Flaherty has still only thrown 69 pitches. Righty Dillon Maples came out to pitch the bottom of the 7th. DeJong struck out. Bader popped to 1st in foul territory. Randy Arozarena pinch hit for Flaherty and flied out to right. Flaherty received a well-deserved standing ovation as he retired to the dugout.

Giovanny Gallegos came out to pitch the top of the 8th. With 1 out, Caratini lined a base hit to center. But Nico Hoerner (who had been playing CF all game) grounded into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. For the bottom of the 8th, David Bote came in to play SS in the #9 spot, and Ben Zobrist moved from SS to pitcher. After Fowler walked, Edman lined out to center. Goldschmidt walked. Ozuna popped up to 2nd base. Molina struck out to end the inning and actually started laughing.

Carlos Martinez came out on no rest for the top of the 9th. Descalso drove a ball to the track in left-center, but Bader made the catch against the wall. David Bote struck out looking. Tony Kemp popped a slider that DeJong caught over his shoulder on the outfield grass to end the game.

NLDS Schedule

Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 3 at Atlanta

Game 2: Friday, Oct. 4 at Atlanta

Game 3: Sunday Oct. 6, at home

Game 4 (if necessary): Monday, Oct. 7 at home

Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, Oct. 9 at Atlanta

Odds and Ends

For what it’s worth, the Brewers ended up getting swept by the Rockies today, losing 4-3 to the Rockies in 13 innings. Two out of the three games went into extra innings, and now they get 1 day off before going to Washington to play the Nationals in the Wild Card Game. The Brewers had a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the 7th. Corbin Burnes allowed a solo HR to Dom Nunez in the bottom of the 8th to make it 3-2. Tyler Austin committed a critical fielding error to put a Rockies runner in scoring position in the 9th that scored for the tying run. After a walk and a throwing error by the catcher on a bunt play, Jake Faria threw a split-finger in the dirt with pinch-hitter Ian Desmond at the plate to hand the Rockies the victory on walkoff wild pitch....There are already 5 managerial jobs available for next season. Ned Yost of the Royals and Bruce Bochy of the Giants have retired. Andy Green of the Padres has already been fired. Joe Maddon will not be retained by the Cubs. And despite the news appearing to suggest the opposite, Clint Hurdle was told by the Pirates organization about an hour before today’s game that he would be managing his last game today. He had more years left on his contract, and was offered the opportunity to manage the last game today before being fired publicly. He declined, and bench coach Tom Prince managed the final Pirate game on an interim basis...If you’re looking for more baseball action before the Cards play on Thursday, the NL Wild Card Game between the Nationals and Brewers is Tuesday Oct. 1st at 7:00 on TBS. The AL Wild Card Game is between the Athletics and Rays and will be on Wednesday October 2nd at 7:00 on ESPN.