PHOENIX -- Weeks ago, the Cardinals mapped out their rotation so that they'd have ace Adam Wainwright available to pitch on the final day of the regular season. It was a move that now looks especially prescient.
Unable to end the Pirates' pursuit in the National League Central race with a 5-2 loss to the D-backs on Saturday night, Wainwright will take the mound on Sunday with the chance to pitch the Cardinals to a second straight division title. If Pittsburgh defeats Cincinnati in an earlier game, St. Louis will need to win behind Wainwright in order to avoid a tiebreaker game on Monday at Busch Stadium.
"Get some sleep, boys," Wainwright blurted out before he left the clubhouse following Saturday's loss. "The biggest game of the year is tomorrow."
The Cardinals had intended to start Wainwright in the series finale regardless of Saturday's outcome because it would not preclude him from being available to start Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Friday. The Cardinals also ooze with confidence behind their ace, who is 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA this month. Wainwright has not allowed a run in his last 21 innings.
"We have our guy on the mound. He's our ace," said Lance Lynn, who couldn't help the Cardinals secure a win on Saturday. "We wouldn't have it any other way right now. We're up one with one to go with our ace on the mound. We're in a good spot."
Also in play, though to a lesser degree, is Wainwright's pursuit of his first 21-win season. He picked up No. 20 in Chicago on Monday and he now has a chance to match the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw as the only pitchers with 21 this year.
Whereas the Cardinals probably wouldn't have pushed Wainwright too deep on Sunday had they already wrapped up the division title, they will now ride him as far as he can take them.
"He's been outstanding in September," Matt Adams said. "He's going to come ready to play tomorrow and so are we. It's going to be exciting."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.