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Cards' October ticket booked; division crown goal

ST. LOUIS -- Though their sights are still set on a second straight division title, the Cardinals took the field for Sunday night's regular-season home finale knowing that their season will not end in a week.

Before diving into their preparations for a game against the Reds, players and staff gathered in the video room to watch the final outs of the game between the Brewers and Pirates at PNC Park. It was somewhat bittersweet for them to watch Pittsburgh wrap up a 1-0 win, since the Pirates are still chasing the Cardinals in the division. But with the Pirates' win, the Brewers were eliminated from the National League Central race, and the Cardinals were ensured of no worse than at least an NL Wild Card spot.

The Cardinals briefly acknowledged the achievement, but quickly went back to work with their mind on more.

"It is nice to know that we will be playing past this coming Sunday," Daniel Descalso said. "Obviously, we would like to go ahead and clinch the division. That is the goal here. We acknowledge that a little bit, but at the same time, there's other work to be done."

"We do have a playoff spot, but that's not the one we want," Lance Lynn added. "Until we win the division, it's not a good feeling at all. That's the way we see it. That's our goal. That's what we're still going for."

The Cardinals, who can boast of being the only NL team to have advanced to the postseason in each of the last four seasons, lost to the Reds, 7-2, on Sunday and will therefore take a 2 1/2-game cushion over the Pirates heading into the final week. The Cardinals have six games remaining on their schedule; the Pirates will play seven. Both will spend the week on the road.

The Cardinals' magic number to clinch a division title is 5, making Wednesday the earliest possible day for a champagne celebration.

Though they left home (where they finished with a 51-30 record) after Sunday's game, the Cardinals have a favorable schedule for a strong finish. They will be playing a pair of clubs (the Cubs and D-backs) that entered Sunday a combined 48 games below .500. Pittsburgh heads to Atlanta for four games before finishing the regular season in Cincinnati.

"We set out to do something in our division, and we're in a good position to do that," manager Mike Matheny said. "We hold those cards in our own hand."

Also still in play is the opportunity to secure home-field advantage for the NL Division Series. While the Nationals, barring a freefall over the next week, are poised to lock down home-field advantage throughout the NL Championship Series by finishing with the NL's best record, the Cardinals trailed the current No. 2 seed, the Dodgers, by two games.

"Not that it's just whatever, but we have some bigger thoughts on our mind, and that is to hopefully go out there and win the division," Jason Motte said. "We have a goal, and we haven't reached that goal yet. We're going to keep playing and doing what we need to do to hopefully reach that goal."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
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