CHICAGO -- Twice one strike away from improving their chances to secure that second National League Wild Card, the Cardinals exited Wrigley Field on Friday with a 5-4 loss that allows those chasing them for that final playoff spot a chance to inch even closer.
Milwaukee pulled to within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals. The Dodgers (two games back) and Phillies (three games back) also remain in the hunt. All three won their series openers on Friday night against other NL teams headed to the postseason (Cincinnati, Washington and Atlanta).
"They're tough," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of his team's 26th one-run loss. "All of them are tough. We've talked about how important [these upcoming games] all are. We've had that a few times here where we have two strikes, two outs and something ends up happening."
The Cubs, trying to avoid a 100-loss season, have publicly noted that there is motivation in trying to play spoiler to their longtime division rival.
"If we're not playing a contender that's fighting, you're not as excited as you are right there," said Darwin Barney, whose ninth-inning, two-run homer sent the game into extra innings. "That's what's fun right now for us. We put ourselves out of it early, and now we have a chance to play games that matter to somebody. It's what you're looking for this time of year, is those kind of games."
Saturday's key games to watch (all times ET)
Cardinals (Wainwright, 13-13) at Cubs (Wood, 6-12), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
Brewers (Peralta, 2-0) at Nationals (Gonzalez, 19-8), 1:05 p.m. Preview >
Braves (Minor, 9-10) at Phillies (Halladay, 10-7), 4:05 p.m. Preview >
Dodgers (Fife, 0-1) at Reds (Latos, 12-4), 4:05 p.m. Preview >
If the postseason started today ...
This is how the teams would match up: Postseason Bracket »
To calculate a team's magic number, take the number of games it has remaining and add one. Then subtract the difference in the number of losses between that team and its closest pursuer.
A tiebreaker game will be played to determine a division winner, even if the tied clubs are assured of participating in the postseason. If a division championship tiebreaker is necessary, the head-to-head record between the clubs will determine home-field advantage. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.
If two clubs are tied for the two Wild Card berths, home-field advantage will be determined by the head-to-head record between the clubs. If the head-to-head record is tied, then the division record will be the next tiebreaker.
2012 postseason schedule
Wild Card playoff games: Oct. 5
Division Series: Oct. 6-12
AL Championship Series: Oct. 13-21
NL Championship Series: Oct. 14-22
World Series: Oct. 24-Nov. 1
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.