With St. Louis' 4-2 win against first-place Cincinnati on Monday night, the Cardinals lowered their magic number to clinch the National League's second Wild Card spot to just one with two games remaining.
The Dodgers, who are the last remaining team the Cardinals need to hold off, squeezed out a 3-2 walk-off win over the Giants on Monday night to stay alive another day. A Los Angeles loss Tuesday would grant St. Louis the Wild Card berth, although St. Louis still controls its own destiny. A victory against the Reds on Tuesday will put the Cardinals in the playoffs.
"We've been here for a little while now," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "I think the guys have bought into that, that we just have to play the game. We have to go out. We have to win. That's all there is to it. But you can't help but watch the box scores, too. That's just a part of the excitement."
The Cardinals are set to send Chris Carpenter to the mound Tuesday for his final regular-season outing.
Carpenter (0-1, 3.27 ERA) will be making his third start since returning from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, but he has shown signs of his old self.
He's given up two earned runs in both of his outings, but he received a loss Wednesday despite holding the Astros to four hits in six innings.
"If I can get better for the next one, that's what we're looking for," Carpenter said after the loss. "We have to remember this is my second game. I'm still working the kinks out a little bit."
He'll need to be at the top of his game as he takes on Mat Latos, who has been one of the hottest Reds starters.
Latos hasn't recorded a loss in six straight starts, and he received a no-decision Thursday against the Brewers in a game in which he retired 14 of the first 15 he faced. Carlos Gomez's solo home run was the righty's only blemish, but he also said he felt he didn't have his best stuff and had to rely on his changeup.
"I felt like I had to grind the whole game," Latos said. "I felt like I battled. And I felt like I pitched real well even though I didn't have my best stuff. If the bullpen gets the win, the bullpen gets the win. That's all that matters."
The Reds are tied with the Nationals for the NL's best record with two games to play. They need to finish a full game ahead of the Nats to claim the No. 1 seed in the postseason. A Cincinnati loss coupled with a Washington win on Tuesday would leave the Reds with a No. 2 seed in the playoffs and playing the No. 3 seed Giants in the NL Division Series.
Reds: Phillips back in lineup after precautionary exit
The Reds reinserted Brandon Phillips into the starting lineup Monday, one day after he was pulled early for some mild tightness in his groin.
Phillips left Sunday's 4-3 win in Pittsburgh as a precaution after slipping on some loose dirt rounding second base. He said he felt better Monday and started the game at second, but he was replaced by Wilson Valdez to start the bottom of the eighth.
"If I feel it again taking ground balls or something, I'd probably say something about it," Phillips said before Monday's game. "I think it was the wet conditions [Sunday]. They wanted to be safe with the postseason coming up."
Phillips went 1-for-4 with an RBI on Monday before exiting the game.
After chalking up seven strikeouts in Monday's game against the Cardinals, the Reds' pitching staff has now accumulated a total of 1,231 strikeouts this season, setting a new single-season franchise record. The previous record was 1,227, set in 2008.
Cardinals: Playoff pitching schedule yet to be determined
Matheny has yet to reveal the club's postseason pitching plan.
With Carpenter pitching Tuesday, he would likely be fresh by Game 1 of the National League Division Series, if the Cardinals make it there, but he would not be ready to pitch in the one-game Wild Card matchup.
Wednesday's starter is still up in the air and could depend on the way the final two games unfold. If the Cardinals haven't clinched the second Wild Card spot by Wednesday, Adam Wainwright will start. How the club will handle it if the final game of the season is not a must-win is still yet to be seen.
"You guys all know we obviously are forward-thinking enough in different scenarios to give us the best chance," Matheny said. "But right now, the way we see it, we have to win two games."
Closer Jason Motte chalked up another save Monday night, marking No. 41 on the year. He has posted the sixth 40-save season in St. Louis history and has recorded each of the team's 41 saves thus far. With just two games remaining, Motte could become the first Cardinals pitcher to collect every save for the team for an entire season.
In 26 road series with the Cardinals since 2003, the Reds have only won three series in St. Louis -- May 2003, June 2006 and September 2011.
Cardinals starting pitchers have worked six-plus innings and allowed two runs or fewer in 84 games this season, doing so for the first time since 1982.