The defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals are on the verge of locking up a second consecutive trip to the postseason.
While the Cincinnati Reds have long since clinched, they're running out of time to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.Winners of 11 of 14, the Cardinals look to keep rolling Tuesday night as they continue a three-game set against a visiting Reds team that hasn't been able to muster much offense of late.Jaime Garcia threw 6 2/3 strong innings and hit his second career homer to help lead the Cardinals (87-73) to a 4-2 victory Monday, spoiling manager Dusty Baker's return to the Reds' dugout.The Cardinals sit two games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second NL wild-card spot with two to go."We've got to win," manager Mike Matheny said. " ... You have to just kind of play it out and don't get too far ahead of yourself."The Cardinals can clinch a playoff berth with a win Tuesday or a Dodgers' loss to San Francisco."It's different with this one-game playoff looming over our heads if we get there," second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "I wouldn't expect a raucous celebration but, you know, some celebration is in order if we do clinch it."Baker, who missed Cincinnati's previous 11 games after suffering a mini-stroke, saw his team's offensive woes continue Monday. The Reds (96-64) have split their last six games, scoring one or two runs five times over that stretch while hitting .220 -- including .139 with runners in scoring position.Cincinnati remains tied with Washington for the NL's best record after the Nationals fell 2-0 on Monday. The Reds need to finish ahead of Washington in order to earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after losing the head-to-head series."The way I look at it, the big one's to come," said Baker, who missed the club's division-clinching win and Homer Bailey's no-hitter Friday.Cincinnati, though, can't be feeling good about a matchup against Chris Carpenter (0-1, 3.27 ERA). The right-hander has typically dominated the Reds over the course of his career, going 12-1 with a 2.28 ERA over his last 15 starts in the series.Carpenter is still seeking his first win since debuting late last month following shoulder surgery on his throwing arm. The veteran right-hander yielded two runs over five innings during a 5-4, 11-inning road loss to the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 21 before giving up two runs and four hits over six innings Wednesday in a 2-0 loss at Houston."I'm glad I was able to build off Chicago and come in tonight and try to do a little better and give my team a chance to win," he told the team's official website. "And if I can get better for the next one, that's what we're looking for ... I'm still working the kinks out a little bit."The Reds, meanwhile, are hoping to see Mat Latos (13-4, 3.52) come out with another strong showing in his final postseason tuneup. The right-hander is 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA over the last three months, allowing two earned runs or fewer in all but four of 18 starts over that stretch.After throwing eight innings of six-hit ball during a 6-0 win over the Dodgers on Sept. 22, Latos surrendered one run and three hits over seven innings of Thursday's 2-1, walk-off victory over Milwaukee.Latos, though, can't be looking forward to facing St. Louis. He was tagged for seven runs and nine hits in five-plus innings during an 8-5 loss Aug. 24, dropping to 1-4 with a 10.24 ERA over six starts against the Cardinals -- his highest career ERA against any opponent.