Cubs' fast start helps magic number drop to 1

Cubs' fast start helps magic number drop to 1

ST. LOUIS -- The Cubs shifted their champagne onto ice Monday night while simultaneously delivering a costly blow to the Cardinals' chances of following with their own cork-popping celebration later in the week.

The suspense was drained out of Busch Stadium early, as the Cubs pounced on starter Luke Weaver for eight early runs before coasting to a 10-2 victory. The win extended Chicago's year-long dominance over the Cardinals -- they have won six straight and are now 12-4 in the season series -- and reduced the Cubs' magic number to repeat as National League Central champs to one.

"We're just getting ready for the playoffs," Chicago's Javier Baez said. "Hopefully, we clinch tomorrow and everything goes our way again."

The Cubs can secure that division title as early as Tuesday with one more win or a loss by the Brewers, who were idle on Monday. The Cardinals, in contrast, must now turn their focus exclusively to the NL Wild Card race, in which they trail the Rockies by 2 1/2 games.

"We still have some other goals that we've set as well, and some of those include playing deep in October and being the last team standing," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of falling short of their division-title aspirations. "It's still right there, and that's one of the goals that we're not going to lose sight of. The ones that you don't achieve, whether they are individual goals, whether they're collective goals, you realize that we'll continue to chase those in the future, but right now, we still have goals that we can attain."

Matheny on Molina's injury, loss

The Cardinals had hoped to close that gap upon returning home for the final seven games of the season, but found themselves in a four-run hole before ever coming to bat. The Cubs struck quickly thanks in large part to Addison Russell's bases-clearing double, and they chased Weaver from the game after three innings.

Weaver allowed as many runs Monday as he had in his previous seven starts combined. Kris Bryant and Baez each took him deep; all eight runs scored with two outs.

"It's the Cubs. Good rivalry. I was juiced, amped up," Weaver said. "[I] still made some good pitches, but it just didn't go our way, or my way. That's just part of the game."

"Look at his numbers and what he's done the last seven times out," Chicago manager Joe Maddon said of Weaver. "A lot of strikeouts, no walks, no runs. He's been really impressive. I really thought [Bryant's] line drive to right took him off his game quickly -- that's what I saw from the side."

Cubs starter Jon Lester saw his fortunes shift, too -- but for the better. After posting a 5.91 ERA in four starts since coming off the disabled list, Lester held the Cardinals to a Jedd Gyorko solo homer over his six-inning start. With his fifth career win over the Cardinals, Lester lowered his career ERA against them to 2.30.

Lester's strong start

"I felt better," Lester said. "Command could've been a little bit better. I'll take the good right now with that game. The ball was coming out better. Everything was a little sharper today than it has been in a little while. That's good. Moving in the right direction."

In almost every way, the Cubs looked right at home. They played in front of several thousand blue-clad fans and were the beneficiaries of an errant firework set off at the stadium when Bryant went deep. Russell even paused during play to accommodate a fan's request for a selfie after replacing the nachos he had accidentally knocked over in pursuit of a foul ball.

Must C: Russell destroys nachos

"You don't get in front of a man and his nachos," Russell said.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Striking first: Weaver was one strike away from slithering out of a first-inning, bases-loaded mess when Russell lined a 96-mph fastball down the right-field line to give the Cubs a quick, 3-0, lead. With the hit, Russell reached base for a sixth consecutive plate appearance against the Cardinals and drove in more runs than Weaver had allowed in any of his previous six starts. Jason Heyward then added to the lead with his own RBI double.

"That big opportunity there with Russell, I feel like I threw a good pitch," Weaver said. "He just got the barrel on it, and it snuck down [the line]. They got some momentum, and they capitalized on it. It gets contagious."

Heyward's RBI double

Baez's blast: Matheny's decision to try and push Weaver through the third backfired with a blast by Baez. After a two-out walk to Heyward put two runners aboard for the eight-hole hitter, Baez reached for an outside curveball and launched it into the Cubs' bullpen. The three-run homer, which traveled a Statcast-estimated 422 feet, was Baez's 23rd of the season and put Chicago ahead by seven runs. It was the 19th home run Cardinals pitching has served up to the Cubs this year.

Baez's three-run jack

MEDICAL REPORT
Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina exited the game in the top of the seventh after being hit on the mask by consecutive foul tips off the bat of Bryant. He headed immediately into the clubhouse to undergo concussion testing. Molina's status for the remainder of the season is uncertain.

Yadi takes two mask shots, exits

"He'll go through all the battery of tests and then make sure that he measures up to his former baseline," Matheny said. "We'll go from there."

Baez fouled a ball off his right leg in the eighth inning, and fell to the ground. After he was examined, Baez stayed in the game and delivered a single to left. But after running to first base, he was lifted for pinch-runner Ian Happ. The Cubs wanted Baez to get ice on his right knee and start treatment.

"It was really sore when I first hit it and then running down the line, I was feeling a big bruise," Baez said. "If I have to play tomorrow, I'm ready. I'm always ready."

QUOTABLE
"It's starting to smell like playoff baseball. I know these guys are amped up. You can see throughout the night, it seems we were pretty aggressive in the zone. It's definitely feeling like playoff baseball, and Jonny Lester was great tonight." -- Russell

"I think we've always said, anytime you can make the last month count, that's good. Going into that final week and still having a mathematical chance, there's something to be said for that. But you have to start winning games." -- Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak

WHAT'S NEXT
Cubs: On Tuesday, Jake Arrieta will be making his second start since he was sidelined briefly because of a right hamstring injury suffered Sept. 4. In his first start back, last Thursday, he gave up one run on five hits over five innings. First pitch from Busch Stadium is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. CT.

Cardinals: With a Wild Card berth still attainable, the Cardinals will continue their series against the Cubs with a 7:15 p.m. CT game on Tuesday. Carlos Martinez, who eclipsed the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career his last time out, will make his 32nd start of the season for St. Louis.

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Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.