The Cardinals have a chance to clinch the National League Central title for the first time since 2009.
After sweeping the Nationals in a three-game set, the Cardinals (94-65) can secure the division title with a win Friday against the Cubs or a Pirates loss Friday to the Reds. The Cardinals also are battling the Braves (94-65) for the best record in the NL and home-field advantage in the postseason.
To secure that edge, St. Louis has to have a better record than the Braves outright, since Atlanta holds the tiebreaker (regular-season series record).
"A fight's a fight," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "It feels like we're in a fight. We show up here every day excited and anxious. Can't wait to get out here and watch our guys do their thing and watch it play out. But it's very similar to last year. We just feel like we've got something to prove every night."
The Cardinals have only set their starting rotation for Friday, when they'll give the ball to Lance Lynn (14-10, 4.09 ERA). They're leaving the weekend open depending on different scenarios. If they're in line for a Wild Card game, they'll likely save Adam Wainwright (18-9, 3.01 ERA) to take the mound for that postseason playoff. If not, Wainwright could pitch Saturday and start the first game of the NL Division Series.
Matheny explained why he's holding off on making the decision.
"I want the guys preparing to stay on time for their starts," he said. "I don't want them thinking about what the possibly is if X, Y or Z happens. We got to play today, win today. And then tomorrow we'll address other things. It's not time to go anywhere else yet.
"I got to tell you, I know the scenarios and I know how it all plays out. But I'm really not going there. Maybe most people do. They start mapping it all out. I've got a very vague picture of what it should look like, but for the most part, I don't want to go there. Because when I think I start going there, I start opening the door for those guys to go there. And when they start going there, bad things are set to happen. We've got plenty of time to figure that stuff out."
The Cubs are bringing their full arsenal of weapons to their final fight. Travis Wood, with a 2.98 ERA this season, takes the mound Friday night looking for his 25th quality start in 32 chances this season. His last time out, he threw seven-innings of one-run ball against the Braves, who were trying to clinch the NL East title.
Now Wood will try to do the same to the Cardinals.
"I don't think any team looks forward to [seeing an opponent clinch]," he said. "But it's always exciting when somebody does, and one day, hopefully, that'll be us."
Cardinals: Westbrook hoping to contribute in relief
Veteran right-hander Jake Westbrook has been keeping himself fresh, throwing off flat ground and awaiting a chance to pitch.
He hasn't had one in almost three weeks since returning from the disabled list.
"It's been tough, but I'm trying to stay as sharp as I can," Westbrook said. "I warmed up pretty extensively in that Colorado game [on Sept. 19] and was throwing really well. I'm confident that if I do get a chance, I'm definitely going to be ready."
The 35-year-old is making $8.75 million this season, with a mutual option worth $9.5 million for next season. First will be the decision on Westbrook's role, if he has one, in the postseason.
"I just hope that I fit in," Westbrook said. "That's where I am right now."
Cubs: Decision coming on Sveum's future
Manager Dale Sveum is signed on for 2014, but he's expecting to learn more about his status for next season on Monday when he meets with Theo Epstein, the club's president of baseball operations.
"I'm not going to sit here and lie and say you're not wondering what's going to happen four, five days from now," Sveum said Wednesday. "That's just human nature. There's nothing you can do about it, or control those decisions. You just keep plugging away."
The team used a franchise-record 56 players this season as they continue to rebuild, though team officials have said Sveum will not be judged based on wins and losses.
"The bottom line is we haven't won as many games as we'd like to," Sveum said. "I knew getting this job there was going to be a good chance of people getting traded for prospects and that we needed to get the Minor League system much healthier and hit the jackpot on some free agents that we signed. Nothing's really changed from what I was told. You're never promised anything."
• Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter needs two more hits for 200. The last Cardinals player to collect 200 hits was Albert Pujols in 2003.
• Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has 63 extra-base hits this season, the most for a Cubs left-hander since Corey Patterson had 63 in 2004. Mark Grace had 65 in 1999.
Friday: LHP Travis Wood (9-11, 2.98 ERA) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (14-10, 4.09 ERA).
Saturday: RHP Edwin Jackson (8-17, 4.74 ERA) vs. TBD
Sunday: RHP Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.33 ERA) vs. TBD