The Cardinals no longer have to worry about procuring an invitation to the postseason gala that October promises. Now, they're trying to seize the best seats available.
For starters, a spot at the table of division winners will do. But this team has a chance to finish with the best record in the National League. Why settle for anything less when you can be the guest of honor?
After Monday's games -- including St. Louis' 4-3 win against Washington -- the Cardinals remained two games ahead of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the NL Central. They trail Atlanta by a half-game for the top record in the league, with the Dodgers behind in that race by two.
Washington, which had an outside shot at a Wild Card berth, was officially eliminated from postseason contention. The top three teams in the NL Central saw to that.
On Tuesday, St. Louis will host the Nationals at Busch Stadium for the second installment of this week's three-game series. The visitors are scheduled to start left-hander Gio Gonzalez (11-7, 3.39 ERA) against Cardinals righty Michael Wacha (3-1, 3.21 ERA).
St. Louis has won all four meetings between the teams this season, with the most recent victory stamping out the Nationals' dim playoffs hopes.
With just five games remaining in the regular season, the Cardinals plan on simply doing what they've done all year long: take it one game at a time. That might be a cliche, but it also has been standard operating procedure for so many championship teams in so many sports.
"Why would we change now?" St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "I think that's the beauty of playing this time of year. If guys have truly bought in to that theory, that approach, then this feels like another game. And so far, they have. They've been very, very consistent, whether it's a bad day, good day -- next one they come out ready to play that exact same way.
"I think that's really what we owe each other, owe ourselves, owe the fans. We put it out there the same way, it really doesn't matter what numbers say or what drama has been built up. It's good for the game, but it's not good for us in how we execute."
Nationals: Davey expects Zimmerman to stay at third
There didn't seem to be much wrong with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's right shoulder on Sunday, when he dove to his right for a sharp grounder and rifled an accurate throw across the diamond just in time for the out. With Zimmerman making plays like that one, the idea of his moving to first base in 2014 becomes a little silly.
"I wasn't worried about it," Johnson said about the position switch. "That was unbelievable -- the catch and he had a heck of a lot on it. That's a seed. I think we would put [playing first base] to bed."
• In his last five outings, Gonzalez is 4-1 with a 1.87 ERA over 33 2/3 innings, with 30 strikeouts against 12 walks. Gonzalez pitched against St. Louis in Games 1 and 5 of last year's NLDS, allowing six hits and five runs with 11 walks and 10 strikeouts over 10 total innings. In one regular-season start against the Cardinals in 2012, Gonzalez threw a five-hit shutout.
Cardinals: Field could play faster after football game
In Monday's series opener, there were still signs that a football game had taken place on the playing surface at Busch Stadium, two days after Southeast Missouri State met Southern Illinois. It took a lot of work to return the field to adequate baseball conditions, but the surface is expected to play a bit faster than normal.
"Looks like the grounds crew did a good job with what they had to try and make happen here," Matheny said. "It's not easy. We've got a very, very good grounds crew here. These guys work real hard and I'll be interested to see how it plays."
• As of now, this start will be Wacha's last of the year, but the Cardinals could shuffle their rotation before the playoffs begin. In four outings since returning to the rotation on Sept. 3, the rookie is 1-1 with a 2.38 ERA over 22 2/3 innings. Wacha most recently pitched last Thursday in Colorado, where he gave up four runs and 12 hits in 4 2/3 innings.
• This season, St. Louis has outscored the Nationals, 13-7, and outhit them, 36-23.
• Washington's Jayson Werth and the Cardinals' Carlos Beltran both hit two-run homers on Monday. Beltran's fifth-inning blast proved to be the game winner.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.