Cubs, Arrieta try to slow Cardinals' playoff push

CHICAGO -- With a division title well in hand, the Chicago Cubs might be tempted to ease up through the final stages of the 2016 regular season.

Instead, the Cubs swept the Cincinnati Reds this week and have more objectives in mind -- including a chance to play spoiler this weekend as the St. Louis Cardinals come to Wrigley Field with the opener set for Friday afternoon.

Chicago (97-55) matched last year's win total with Wednesday's 9-2 victory over the Reds.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he'd like to reach a 100-win plateau he's never achieved.

"I've had 100 losses (with Tampa Bay)," he said.

Chicago's magic number to clinch home field through the National League playoffs is three.

And then there are the Cardinals (80-72), who are one-half game behind the San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets in the wild-card race.

"I think definitely the intensity will be there," Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. "I think any time you play them, it's a fun series. You get a lot of Cardinals fans down here. We want to play everybody tough."

The Cubs' big four starters work the next four games as right-hander Jake Arrieta (17-7, 2.96 ERA) pitches Friday with Jason Hammel and Jon Lester to follow.

Kyle Hendricks is scheduled to pitch Monday, kicking off a three-game series in Pittsburgh.

There will be other lineup tweaks as Maddon and his staff ponder the postseason roster.

"There are all kinds of different things we're working on right now to try to make it a constructive week where you get a really final good look at some guys, give them a chance to possibly be in a role they might be utilized in the postseason," he said.

Arrieta makes his 30th start of the season and is 6-2 with a 2.03 ERA in 12 career turns against St. Louis.

The Cardinals had won four straight until Wednesday's 11-1 loss in Colorado. With no head-to-head games against their wild-card competitors, St. Louis is on its own while hoping for help from those playing the Giants and Mets.

"We control what we can control, same boring stuff," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told reporters. "But it works for us, because it keeps it very simple what our job description is. We control ourselves. That's it."

The Cardinals' Mike Leake (9-10, 4.54 ERA) makes his fourth start of the season (0-2, 4.26) against the Cubs on Friday.

It will be his fourth start this month since coming off the disabled list (shingles). He's 0-1 in that span with a loss to Chicago and two no-decisions, including a Cardinals' victory over the Giants on Saturday as he allowed two runs and seven hits over six innings.

The Cardinals close the regular season at home with four games against the Cincinnati Reds and three against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs hit the road for series in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
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