Home-field advantage on the line as Cards face Cubs in regular-season finale

News-DemocratSeptember 29, 2013 

Matheny talks to the media before the Cardinals' regular-season finale Sunday.

BNDVIDEO

— It's the final game of the regular season at 1:15 p.m. Sunday when the St. Louis Cardinals play the Chicago Cubs at sun-splashed Busch Stadium.

Jake Westbrook (7-8, 4.67 ERA) will start for the Cardinals in what amounts to a sendoff, since the right-hander will not be on the postseason roster and will not return in 2014.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny did not comment in his pregame meeting with reporters about how long Westbrook will pitch. The concensus is that it will be one inning or perhaps 1 1/3 innings, so he can walk off the field before the home fans one last time.

"We'll have quite a few of the guys that are going to be coming in (from the bullpen) also to compete," Matheny said. "We're happy to get Jake out there. Joe (Kelly) will be right behind him and we'll give everybody else the work they need to get ready for Thursday."

Asked what Westbrook's approximate pitch count would be, Matheny replied: "It's not going to be very many. It won't be long. ... We'll be ready early. I'm not looking for Jake to go out and throw six innings today, just for the record."

The Cardinals need to win to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, although if they were fortunate enough to reach the World Series, the American League opponent would have the home-field edge.

Entering Sunday, the Cardinals had a one-game lead over Atlanta for the best record in the National League. If the Cardinals lose Sunday and Atlanta defeats the Phillies, the Braves will have home-field until the World Series.

"We're not losing sight of that," Matheny said. "We're trying to win, but we've got to keep our priorities right."

The Cardinals will open the best-of-five NL Division Series on Thursday at Busch Stadium against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds.

If the Cardinals and Braves both win or both lose Sunday, St. Louis' opponent will face Pittsburgh or Cincinnati in the Division Series. If the Cardinals lose and the Braves win, they will play the Dodgers.

"It's nice knowing we've got baseball still ahead so you don't do too much thinking about this being the last one," Matheny said.

Matheny is playing most of his regulars Sunday, save left fielder Matt Holliday and third baseman David Freese. Allen Craig is sidelined by the injury to his left foot.

"We just stuck with that plan from the beginning: 'What do you guys need to be ready for Thursday? You guys let us know and we're going to go out there and compete with what we've got,'" Matheny said.

Freese missed his second consecutive start but said he is feeling strong and will be ready to go in the playoffs.

"He felt the days (off) would be better," Matheny said. "Some of it is where he feels right now with his swing, so we've been listening to him."

On another note, Matt Carpenter needs one hit to reach 200 this season. Carpenter leads the major leagues in doubles (55) and runs scored (126).

And now, introducing the lineups:

CARDINALS (96-65)

1. Matt Carpenter, 3B

2. Jon Jay, CF

3. Carlos Beltran, RF

4. Matt Adams, 1B

5. Yadier Molina, C

6. Daniel Descalso, SS

7. Shane Robinson, LF

8. Kolten Wong, 2B

9. Jake Westbrook, P

CUBS (66-95)

1. Starlin Castro, SS

2. Logan Watkins, 2B

3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B

4. Nate Schierholtz, RF

5. Ryan Sweeney, CF

6. Donnie Murphy, 3B

7. Brian Bogusevic, LF

8. J.C. Boscan, C

9. Jeff Samardzija, P

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665.

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