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Cardinals still have work to do in final weekend

Several scenarios in play heading into last series of season

CHICAGO -- After arriving in Chicago with the potential to clinch a National League Central title during their visit to the Windy City, the Cardinals departed for Arizona not only with the champagne still on ice, but also with plenty of work left to do.

They still control their own destiny and technically don't need a bit of help from the Pirates. A sweep of Arizona in this final series of the regular season would secure a second straight division crown, regardless what goes on in the Pirates-Reds series at Great American Ball Park.

Of course, that would also require the Cards to do something they have yet to do all season -- sweep a series on the road.

"Everybody in here has the mindset that we don't want it to be handed to us," Matt Carpenter said after a series loss to the Cubs. "We want to go out and take care of business ourselves. We want to win these games. ... And also, you [want to be] playing well and trying to get everything going with momentum into the postseason. We don't want to get in by default or because Pittsburgh lost, as opposed to us going out and taking care of business."

The Cardinals left Wrigley Field still leading the hanging-around Pirates by 1 1/2 games. The Bucs, who play in Atlanta while the Cards are idle on Thursday, have a chance to pull within one game if they beat the Braves. A loss would give St. Louis a two-game cushion and the potential to clinch the division as early as Friday.

As the Cardinals prepare for the final three-game push, here is a look at what is known and what is still in play as the NL playoff spots get settled:

Home-field advantage: With Wednesday's loss, the Cardinals ended any chance of holding home-field advantage in the NL Division Series. The East-champion Nationals have five more wins than the Cards, while the West-winning Dodgers have three more. Because Los Angeles beat St. Louis in four of the seven head-to-head games, the Dodgers would get the edge if the two teams were to have identical records after 162 games.

NLDS matchup: The NL Central champ is almost certain to play the Dodgers in the best-of-five NLDS. Washington needs only one more win (or one Los Angeles loss) to wrap up home-field advantage throughout the NL Championship Series. That would set Washington up to play against the winner of the NL Wild Card Game.

Tiebreaker potential: If the Cardinals and Pirates were to finish the season with the same record, the two would meet in a tiebreaker game at Busch Stadium on Monday. The Cards would host that game because they own an 11-8 advantage in their season series against the Bucs. The winner of that game would capture the division title and open NLDS play on the road on Friday. The loser would fall into the NL Wild Card Game, which will be played on Wednesday.

Wild Card possibilities: Should the Pirates leapfrog the Cardinals in the NL Central, St. Louis is still assured of playing at least one postseason game. It would almost certainly come against the Giants, who have a magic number of one to eliminate the Brewers. The Cards currently have a three-game advantage over the Giants, which means one St. Louis win or San Francisco loss over the final three days of the regular season would ensure the Cardinals of hosting that game. The winner of the NL Wild Card Game would then travel to Washington for the NLDS.

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