On Saturday afternoon, St. Louis narrowly avoided its fourth straight loss at the rival Cubs' home park, pulling out a 5-4 win in 10 innings. That made the Cardinals 3-5 there this season, and 9-7 overall against Chicago.
The teams will meet for the final time this season on Sunday afternoon, as the Cubs close out a three-game series with the Cardinals seeking to protect a 2 1/2-game edge over the Brewers.
With 10 games to go, St. Louis' playoff position is a bit precarious, but manager Mike Matheny relishes his club's status as a contender.
"There are a lot of players who have terrific careers and have never been to the 22nd of September right in the middle of this," Matheny said before Saturday's game. "It's exciting as a player, it's exciting as a manager, it's exciting as a fan. You don't want to take these for granted because they're rare and they're special. You want to make the most of them."
The Cardinals now have won five of their last six. They will send Kyle Lohse to the mound against the Cubs' Justin Germano looking to capture the series.
On Saturday, they got some help from the Nationals, who beat the Brewers, preventing Milwaukee from keeping pace with St. Louis in the Wild Card race. Before the game, Matheny didn't express much interest in watching the scoreboard, preferring to focus on the task at hand.
"I'm not going out of my way, but I'm not turning a blind eye to it," Matheny said. "We need to play the game. We need to do what we can do, and the rest of that stuff is going to take care of itself. We are in a position where we can control how things can go in the future, so let's take care of our business ourselves. There's great excitement in the game right now."
The Cubs aren't worried about the playoffs, but these late-season games still have plenty of meaning for manager Dale Sveum, who can see how his young players fare. Chicago already has faced Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in the series, "so you're getting to evaluate against some of the best," Sveum said.
"That's part of September, too, when you're playing the contending teams that haven't dismantled or called up a lot of September callups," he said. "There's a lot of evaluating going on."
Cardinals: Lohse a steady force in the rotation
Lohse comes into this start 15-3 with a 2.71 ERA, having allowed two earned runs or fewer in 23 of his 31 starts. That includes Tuesday, when he held the Astros scoreless over seven innings, giving up four hits and striking out five.
"This year, he's healthy and doing his thing," catcher Yadier Molina said after the game. "He's hitting his location, not missing over the plate too much and keeping the ball down. He's been pretty good for us."
Molina left Saturday's game with lower back spasms during a ninth-inning at-bat after awkwardly avoiding an inside pitch from Carlos Marmol.
Cubs: Scuffling Germano looks to rebound
Germano (2-8, 6.17) has made the Cubs' bullpen work this season, lasting through six innings once in his 10 starts. The righty has gone five innings or fewer in six straight outings, all losses. On Tuesday, he tied a career high with five walks in five innings against the Reds while surrendering three runs.
Some believe September is a bad time to evaluate players, with expanded rosters and other factors potentially affecting a player's performance. Sveum isn't part of that camp.
"It's no different than having a big June. It's a month in the big leagues," he said. "And that's what people do sometimes. They're slow starters or whatever, and they finish gradually and guys have great Septembers. That's part of the game."
Lohse has started against the Cubs six times over the past three seasons, but all of those games have been at Busch Stadium. The right-hander last pitched at Wrigley Field in 2009. Lohse has posted a 3.95 ERA in two starts against Chicago this season.
Germano gave up a run on five hits during a three-inning relief outing against the Cardinals on July 21, his first appearance with the Cubs.