ST. LOUIS – Jack Flaherty, Paul Goldschmidt and the St. Louis Cardinals quickly drained any drama from a final-day playoff chase.
They were totally fine with that.
The Cardinals clinched the NL Central in their last game of the regular season, using Flaherty’s arm and Goldschmidt’s bat Sunday to win their first division title since 2015 with a 9-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
“This is what it’s all about,” manager Mike Shildt said. “I love to see the guys enjoy the fruits of their labor — it’s something special.”
The Cardinals built an 8-0 lead in the third inning and coasted into the best-of-five NL Division Series, starting Thursday at Atlanta.
St. Louis started the day with a one-game lead over Milwaukee. The second-place Brewers will play at Washington in the NL wild-card game Tuesday night, with the winner going on to play Los Angeles in the NLDS.
The Cubs lost on Joe Maddon’s last day as their manager. It was announced before the game that he won’t return next year.
Maddon remained calm after the game as he received congratulations from his players.
“I’ve been able to hold it together pretty well,” Maddon said. “It was very cool.”
The Cubs had a four-year postseason run snapped this season. Maddon compiled a 471-339 record in five seasons and guided the Cubs to the World Series championship in 2016, ending a 108-year drought.
Chicago finished 84-78 after a 95-68 mark in 2018.
Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber said he is going to miss Maddon.
“He changed the culture of the organization — 108 years and he breaks the curse,” he said.
Maddon’s contract expired after the season finale.
“Change can help you grow,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said before the game. “And Joe said this change is going to help him grow and I feel it’s going to help the Cubs grow, too.”
The 23-year-old Flaherty tossed seven impressive innings. He gave up two hits, stuck and six and walked one in an efficient 69-pitch stint.
“He continues to be amazing,” Goldschmidt said.
St. Louis is back in the postseason after a three-year absence. The Cardinals have won or shared 12 division titles since the current format was developed in 1995.
The Cardinals (91-71) finished three games better than last season (88-74).
Goldschmidt, who had three hits, added his team-high 34th home run. He was acquired in a trade from Arizona last December.
“For just this reason,” Goldschmidt said. “My fondest memories in baseball are the celebrations. To accomplish this goal as a team, it’s great. But we have to keep going.”
In Other Games
Rockies 4, Brewers 3 (13)
Dodgers 9, Giants 0
Mets 7, Braves 6 (11)
Reds 3, Pirates 1
Marlins 4, Phillies 3
Diamondbacks 1, Padres 0
Rangers 6, Yankees 1
Red Sox 5, Orioles 4
Astros 8, Angels 5
Blue Jays 8, Rays 3
Mariners 3, Athletics 1
White Sox 5, Tigers 3
Royals 5, Twins 4
Nationals 8, Indians 2
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5