1 of 13Members of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate after defeating the Milwaukee Brewers in a baseball game to win the National League Central title Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
MILWAUKEE (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals finally separated themselves from the Milwaukee Brewers in early August after chasing them for much of the season.
They haven’t looked back since, turning what had been a nip-and-tuck NL Central race into something of a runaway.
MVP contender Paul Goldschmidt went 2 for 4 with a pair of RBIs as the Cardinals clinched the division title Tuesday night by beating the Brewers 6-2 behind six strong innings from Miles Mikolas.
“With the guys that we have and the veteran leadership, we knew that as soon as we smelled some blood right there and we took that lead, we knew we could run away with it,” Mikolas said.
Andrew Knizner hit a two-run homer to break out of an 0-for-22 slump as St. Louis sealed its first division crown since 2019 and fourth straight playoff berth by defeating the team that won last year’s NL Central championship. This marks the third straight year the Cardinals have wrapped up a postseason spot with a victory over the Brewers.
The Cardinals (90-65) guaranteed themselves at least a tie with second-place Milwaukee (82-72), and now they own the tiebreaker because the victory Tuesday gave St. Louis an insurmountable 10-8 lead in the season series.
St. Louis held a rather low-key celebration on the Brewers’ home field after the final out, reacting not much differently than if they’d just won an ordinary game at midseason. The party didn’t start until the Cardinals got into the locker room and started popping champagne.
“This is just one step, guys,” Albert Pujols told his teammates at the start of the celebration. “Just remember this moment. This is what we want to do deeper in October and hopefully win the championship and bring it to the city of St. Louis.”
The Brewers remain 1 1/2 games behind Philadelphia for the final NL wild card. The Phillies won the season series with Milwaukee and would get the playoff bid if the teams end up tied.
St. Louis trailed Milwaukee in the NL Central standings for much of the season and was four games back on the morning of July 31. The Cardinals are 37-17 and the Brewers 25-28 since.
“We just didn’t really play well enough all season to deserve winning the division,” Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich said. “You get what you deserve in sports a lot and we just, for whatever reason, weren’t able to put it all together. Not saying we don’t still have a shot. We still have a shot at a wild card.”
Tuesday’s clincher didn’t feature much suspense as St. Louis scored the first six runs to delight the large contingent of Cardinals fans at American Family Field.
Mikolas (12-13) struck out nine and allowed only four hits and one walk. The Brewers’ lone run off him came in the sixth when Rowdy Tellez hit his 34th homer.
Milwaukee trailed 2-0 when starter Adrian Houser (6-10) left due to a strained right groin with one out in the fourth. Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Houser likely will go on the injured list.
The Cardinals grabbed sole possession of first place on Aug. 6 and have been there ever since as part of an exciting season that’s included Pujols hitting his 700th career homer, Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado making MVP arguments and Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina becoming the most prolific battery in MLB history.
“Extremely magical when you really think about it,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “What’s more important about all of it is you’ve got MVP candidates on our corners, you’ve got Yadi and Waino chasing 325 (starts together), you’ve got 700 from Albert, and they never made it about themselves. They always pointed toward winning and taking a step toward a championship. That tells you a lot about the character and the culture of this club.”
Molina and Pujols already have announced this is their final season. Now that the Cardinals have earned a division title, they want to keep on winning to make sure those veterans go out in style.
“We want them to leave baseball with one more ring, for sure,” Mikolas said.
Counsell said there’s a possibility starting pitchers Aaron Ashby and Freddy Peralta also could work out of the bullpen during this stretch run now that they’ve returned from the injured list.
“I think there’s a chance you see Freddy and Aaron in both roles,” Counsell said.
Peralta started and pitched two innings before Ashby worked 1 2/3 innings of relief Sunday in the Brewers’ 2-1 loss at Cincinnati. That marked the first appearances for both of them since getting activated.
LHP José Quintana (6-6, 3.03 ERA) starts for the Cardinals and RHP Brandon Woodruff (12-4, 3.18) pitches for the Brewers in the final regular-season matchup between the teams Wednesday.