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With winning streak record secure, Cardinals turn attention to clinching, closing Wrigley's 2021 season

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St. Louis Cardinals' Paul Goldschmidt watches his one-run single during the sixth inning in the first baseball game of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

CHICAGO — With a win Sunday in the final game of the 2021 season at Wrigley Field, the Cardinals can do more than extend their own franchise record with a 16th consecutive victory.

They could (hang with me here) clinch a spot in the postseason.

They woke up Sunday with that mathematically possibility. They do not intend to hang around at Wrigley Field to wait in the event it could happen.

"We're going to take care of our business," manager Mike Shildt said.

And then they'll fly back to St. Louis for an off day, and whatever happens after they leave Wrigley that could secure their postseason berth will happen. The champagne will happen later — perhaps when the division and wild-card berths are sorted out later in the week.

It's tricky, but here is how the Cardinals (86-69) with a magic number of three could clinch on Sunday:

• First, the magic number is calculated by the loss column, and it does not take into account the schedule, and that is important here because the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies play each other this coming week, and both teams are just behind the Cardinals as they duel for a division title.

• Second, the Cardinals must win Sunday, and the Phillies, Atlanta, and Cincinnati must all lose for the Cardinals to clinch a postseason spot.

Let's walk through how that will happen.

• If the Cardinals win, they will have 87 wins.

• The Phillies currently have 81 wins with seven games remaining. If they lose Sunday, the most wins they can have will be 87 wins. That would tie the Cardinals, but that would also win the NL East, because ...

• The Braves currently have 82 wins with eight games to play. If they lose Sunday, the most wins they could have 89 wins. However, for the Phillies to get to 87 wins, they would have to sweep Atlanta. That means the most wins Atlanta could have in that scenario is 86 wins.

• The Phillies cannot reach 87 without sweeping the Braves. The Braves cannot reach 87 wins if they are swept. With a win Sunday, the Cardinals would already be there, at 87 wins, assured in this scenario of at least the NL's second wild card.

• The Reds have 80 wins with seven remaining. If they lose Sunday, the most wins they can have for the season is 86. Again, a win Sunday gives the Cardinals 87 wins.

Got it?

Cool?

It's complicated because the magic number doesn't reflect the schedule and that three-game series between the Phillies and Braves means both of those teams cannot win those games. 

The clearest path to the postseason for the Cardinals is just to keep winning and to secure at least the wild card with their 88th win of the season.

On the day they can eliminate Cincinnati from the race, the Cardinals turn fittingly to rookie Jake Woodford. His start Sunday in the finale at Wrigley Field takes on a different feel with the questions about Jon Lester's immediate future. The lefty completed the fifth inning Saturday but left with concern about his arm, and the Cardinals are going through a day-to-day determination on what his availability will be when his turn comes up next.

The Cardinals announced a "TBD" for Thursday's game.

That could be Jack Flaherty instead of Lester with Dakota Hudson as the middle innings for that day, unless he is needed in relief before then. Where the Cardinals are in the standings will also sway their decision, and given their approach in the past week it's unlikely they'll advertise another opener-type start for Flaherty.

The Cardinals do want to keep Flaherty on his routine and allow for him to go through the pre-game warmups as if starting, an official said.

Here are the lineups for the Cardinals' last road game of the regular season:

CARDINALS

1. Tommy Edman, 2B

2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B

3. Tyler O'Neill, LF

4. Nolan Arenado, 3B

5. Dylan Carlson, RF

6. Harrison Bader, CF

7. Paul DeJong, SS

8. Andrew Knizner, C

9. Jake Woodford, RHP

CUBS

1. Rafael Ortega, CF

2. Frank Schwindel, 1B

3. Ian Happ, RF

4. Willson Contreras, C

5. Matt Duffy, 3B

6. Nick Martini, LF

7. Sergio Alcantara, SS

8. David Bote, 2B

9. Keegan Thompson, RHP

Check back this afternoon and evening for instant coverage from Wrigley Field as the Cardinals close out their road trip and look for their 16th consecutive victory. There will also be expanded coverage in the pages of Monday's Post-Dispatch and online here at StlToday.com.

Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter

dgoold@post-dispatch.com

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