The Chicago Cubs are going into the final day of the season with a shot at the NL Central championship.
Whether they take it outright or have to play a tiebreaker remains unclear. They could wind up in a wild-card game after that, too.
So many uncertainties for a team hoping for another big run.
Miles Mikolas outpitched Cole Hamels with eight sparkling innings, and the St. Louis Cardinals stayed alive in the playoff race by topping the Cubs 2-1 on Saturday.
The Cardinals remained in the hunt for a wild card for at least a few more hours while assuring the division race between Chicago and Milwaukee comes down to the final day.
“It’s a special moment to be able to see that type of intensity that comes with meaningful games and that sort of playoff atmosphere,” Hamels said. “It’s a little bit better when you win. … (To win the World Series), you’re gonna have to play some really tough teams at some tough moments, high intensity, high stakes.”
St. Louis needed a win plus a loss by the Los Angeles Dodgers to San Francisco to remain in contention.
The Cubs would have wrapped up their third straight division championship with a victory along with a loss by the Brewers to Detroit on Saturday night. Chicago and Milwaukee would meet in a tiebreaker at Wrigley Field on Monday if they wind up with identical records, with the loser then playing in a wild-card game at home on Tuesday.
“There’s nothing to lament with our guys,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose team led the division by five games on Sept. 2. “They’ve been playing very well for a long period of time. Our route’s been a little different than everybody else. We’ll come back ready to play (Sunday) and see how it all falls.”
Mikolas (18-4) allowed one unearned run and five hits in his fifth straight win. He struck out six, walked none and improved to 10-0 in 16 road starts.
Carlos Martinez worked a perfect ninth for his fifth save in five chances.
Matt Carpenter and Paul DeJong each had RBI singles. Carpenter also scored a run. And the Cardinals got back to winning after matching a season high with four straight losses.
“We did everything we could today,” Mikolas said. “I know a few guys on the Giants, maybe send them some text messages, pump them up, get them ready for the game and maybe go grab dinner and a beer and see how that game shakes out.”
Hamels (4-3) was a tough-luck loser, dropping his third straight start after going 4-0 in his first nine outings following a trade from Texas. The veteran left-hander gave up two runs, one earned, and three hits in seven innings. He struck out eight , walked two and hit two batters.
Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Daniel Murphy hit fly balls to the warning track. But the Cubs got shut out the rest of the way after taking a 1-0 lead in the first.
GRABBING THE LEAD
Ben Zobrist singled and scored when second baseman Yairo Munoz let Javier Baez’s pop fly deflect off his glove as he tried to make an over-the-shoulder basket catch in shallow right field.
It was the Cardinals’ major league-leading 132nd error.
Carpenter played a role in both runs as St. Louis scored in the fourth and fifth to go up 2-1.
He reached on interference by catcher Victor Caratini and scored on DeJong’s single in the fourth. Harrison Bader got hit by a pitch leading off the fifth and scored on a single by Carpenter, who got thrown out by Caratini trying to take second on the play.
Mikolas’ 18 wins are the most by a Cardinals pitcher since Adam Wainwright’s 20 in 2014. … Hamels has a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts for Chicago.
Cardinals: RHP Bud Norris (tight left hamstring) was unavailable, manager Mike Shildt said. Norris faced two batters in the seventh inning Friday before leaving the game.
Cubs: RHP Pedro Strop (strained left hamstring) said he does not expect to pitch again until the playoffs. Injured running to first on a double-play grounder at Washington on Sept. 13, he still experiences some discomfort on the landing throwing off the mound. “I expect to feel it a little bit,” Strop said. “But it was nothing major, nothing like I reinjured it. I knew it was gonna hurt at some point. I’m not afraid of it.”
Cardinals: RHP Jack Flaherty (8-8, 3.16 ERA) pitches in the regular-season finale on Sunday. He is 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA in his past five starts.
Cubs: LHP Mike Montgomery (5-6, 3.99 ERA) tries to close out the regular season on a winning note after getting tagged for five runs in four innings in a loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
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