ST. LOUIS -- The magic number is 0.
A Cardinals season that began with three losses in the first four games has culminated -- for the moment -- in their winning their seventh National League Central Division championship in the last 14 seasons on Friday night.
Yadier Molina doubled in two runs in a three-run first inning, Matt Holliday had two hits, including his 250th career home run, which was his 21st of the season, and David Freese belted his ninth homer.
Righthander Lance Lynn, winning his 15th as he pitched his fourth strong game in succession, struck out eight in the first three innings and pitched scoreless ball for six as the Cardinals beat their longtime rivals, the Chicago Cubs, 7-0, forcing the hapless Cubs to watch a team clinch a playoff spot or division title for the third time in the last week.
The Cardinals know they will play at home Thursday in a divisional playoff game, but they do not know the opponent. It well could be Western Division champion Los Angeles but it could be the winner of the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati wild-card game if the Cardinals finish with the best record in the league.
Both Eastern Division champion Atlanta and the Cardinals are 95-65 with two games left but the Braves hold the tiebreaker because they won the season series from the Cardinals, four games to three.
The Cardinals, who battled Pittsburgh and Cincinnati all season for the Central title, have drawn away with a late rush, winning their last four games and six of their last seven to go 30 games over .500 for the first time and post their most wins since they won 100 in 2005.
A stream of relievers followed Lynn, who fanned nine for the game, including displaced closer Edward Mujica, who pitched for the first time in a week. Mujica threw one pitch to get one out in the seventh and then was pinch hit for.
Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal also appeared as the Cardinals claimed their first division title since 2009 although they have qualified for the playoffs as wild cards the last two seasons.
Most of a crowd of 44,030 stood and cheered as Rosenthal, pitching around two singles, recorded the final three outs. When second baseman Matt Carpenter threw out Darwin Barney for the final out, the dugout and bullpen emptied and players bounced together near the pitcher's mound.
Holliday's HR is his 250th
Matt Holliday hit homer No. 250 of his career in the sixth inning tonight at Busch Stadium to raise the Cardinals' lead to 7-0 over the Chicago Cubs and make it only a matter of time until they would clinch their seventh National League Central Division title since 2000.
Holliday's second hit of the game and his 21st homer of the season raised his average to .299. Lance Lynn struck out nine in six scoreless innings before turning the game over to the bullpen.
The Cardinals, holding their 7-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth, are three outs away from sewing up the title themselves because second-place Pittsburgh stayed alive momentarily by beating Cincinnati.
Cardinals steal a couple
The runnin' Redbirds, who are actually last in the National League in stolen bases, helped steal a couple of runs in the fourth inning as they extended their lead over the Chicago Cubs to 6-0 tonight at Busch Stadium.
Matt Carpenter, who had walked, and Carlos Beltran, who had singled, ran on a 3-2 pitch to Matt Holliday. The pitch was called ball four but Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro fired to third base -- and then into left field -- anyway. Carpenter scored and Beltran went to third where he eventually came home on Yadier Molina's forceout grounder.
Cardinals starter Lance Lynn fanned nine and gave up just three singles over the first five innings. The Cardinals were 12 outs away from their seventh division title in the last 14 seasons.
Freese hits 9th homer
David Freese, who is used to hitting big home runs in the fall of the year, smacked his ninth of the season, a 399-foot clout to right center, in the third inning to stretch the Cardinals' lead to 4-0 over the Chicago Cubs as the Cardinals closed in on their seventh division title since 2000.
Freese's home run, his ninth, came off Cubs lefthanded rookie Brooks Raley.
Cardinals starter Lance Lynn fanned eight in the first three innings, allowing two singles to Starlin Castro but nothing else. He allowed a leadoff bloop single to Anthony Rizzo in the fourth but stranded Rizzo at first.
Molina sparks three-run first
Yadier Molina reached a career high in runs batted in and the Cardinals moved closer to winning the National League Central Division title tonight at Busch Stadium when he doubled with two out to score both Matt Holliday and Matt Adams to highlight a three-run first inning.
Molina's drive off Chicago lefthander Travis Wood, who was scheduled to pitch just the first inning -- his 200th of the season -- gave him 77 RBIs, one more than last year. Holliday and Adams both singled ahead of Molina.
Jon Jay, extending his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games, singled to score Molina, with the other runners moving to second and third on an errant throw.
Pete Kozma was walked intentionally ahead of pitcher Lance Lynn to fill the bases. Lynn struck out but he had a three-run jump on his 15th win of the season.
Lynn struck out eight in the first three innings, including six in a row from the first into the third.
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