LOS ANGELES -- Aware of the opportunity they have to further push back their closest competition for the second National League Wild Card spot, the Cardinals have something else potentially at stake during this weekend series vs. the Dodgers.
The outcomes of these next three games would determine home-field advantage for a play-in game should the Cardinals and Dodgers end up tied for the second Wild Card. The Dodgers trailed the Cardinals by two games for that playoff berth entering Friday's game.
A tiebreaker game would be played on Oct. 4, the day after the regular season, at the home park of whichever team won more games in the head-to-head series. Through Thursday, the Dodgers and Cardinals had split their eight head-to-head games. Los Angeles won the first four, including a three-game sweep of the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium back in May. St. Louis has taken four straight since then.
The Cardinals have already lost season series against the Pirates (7-8) and the Phillies (2-5) should either of those clubs finish in a tie with St. Louis for the second Wild Card. A tie with the Brewers would result in a home play-in game for St. Louis, which won nine of the 15 head-to-head games against Milwaukee this season.
Carpenter starts at second as Cards ride hot hand
LOS ANGELES -- Wanting to ensure that Matt Carpenter's bat remains in the lineup, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny gave Carpenter a second career start at second base on Friday night. Carpenter's other start at the position came back on July 5.
Having been told by his manager that another start at second would be a possibility, Carpenter has been taking regular pregame work at the position throughout the second half. He was there again on Friday for extended defensive work with shortstop Pete Kozma, Carpenter's middle-infield partner for the game.
"I'm always on my toes when it comes to getting reps there," Carpenter said. "I like to consider myself a baseball player and that means that even with things like this, you go out there confident."
While Carpenter has shown a knack for assimilating to new positions without much trouble, second base can be tricky. The footwork differs from what is required at a corner infield spot, and there are double play turns to worry about. There are also the less-noticeable nuances of the position -- like being in the right position for a cutoff -- that aren't yet instinctual for Carpenter.
Matheny sees the potential sacrifice defensively outweighed by both what Carpenter can do at the plate and the need the team has for a spark. Matheny's club has averaged three runs a game over the past 16 games.
"I don't think you can deny where we are offensively trying to get everybody going," Matheny said. "We were looking for a spot to try and get him in there, a player who is playing well. We've talked about staying with the hot hand, and he's been swinging a good bat and has been putting together good at-bats all season.
"It's going to be a challenge for him out there, no question. I know he's up for the challenge."
Carpenter entered the game with a .303 average and a team-best 10 RBIs this month before homering in his first at-bat in the second inning on Friday.
Cards await word on Westbrook's oblique strain
LOS ANGELES -- According to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, starter Jake Westbrook was scheduled to visit a doctor in St. Louis on Thursday to determine how much progress the right-hander has made with his right oblique strain. The results of that exam were not immediately known.
Westbrook has not thrown a ball since wrapping up his Sept. 8 start against the Brewers. Westbrook suffered an oblique injury while throwing a fifth-inning pitch in that game.
Asked if it would be safe to assume Westbrook would not pitch during the next turn through the rotation, Matheny was noncommittal, saying, "I have no idea where he is right now. I don't know what the next step is." Westbrook remained in St. Louis while the team took off on this seven-game road trip.
Though Matheny wouldn't define a timetable, it's hard to imagine Westbrook being ready to pitch next week. Once he is cleared to resume throwing, Westbrook will have to throw at least a few times on the side before the Cardinals would be comfortable pitching him in a game.
The Cardinals have several options on how to handle the rotation next week. With Monday's off-day, the club could skip Westbrook's spot in the rotation. Lance Lynn, who had a terrific outing on Thursday, could make another spot start for Westbrook again. Chris Carpenter would be another option to slide into the spot.
Right-hander Chris Carpenter remains on schedule to throw another simulated game on Saturday. This would be Carpenter's fourth simulated game, and he is expected to extend himself to about 90 pitches. If all goes well on Saturday, it will likely be Carpenter's last step before pitching in a regular-season game.
The Cardinals are one of only four organizations that has not yet announced a short-season affiliation assignment for the 2013 season. St. Louis has not renewed its contract with Batavia (N.Y). Should the Cardinals look for a new short-season team, look for State College to make a hard push to work out an agreement with the organization. State College has most recently served as an affiliate of the Pirates.
Double-A Springfield faced Frisco (Texas) on Friday night in Game 3 of the best-of-five Texas League championship. Springfield won the first two games (both at home) of the series. Left-hander Kevin Siegrist started Friday for Springfield.
With his game-winning hit on Thursday, Allen Craig improved his average with runners in scoring position to .390. Only five Cardinals have ever finished a season with a better average in those run-producing spots. Dane Iorg's .441 average with runners in scoring position in 1981 remains the organization's top mark.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.