Tonight in MLB: NL Central race heats up

Tonight in MLB: NL Central race heats up
September 23, 2013, 12:00 pm
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The NL Central-leading Cardinals take on the Nationals Monday night at 8:15 p.m. (USA Today Images)

Nationals at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m.
The St. Louis Cardinals are headed back to the postseason.

The Washington Nationals' chances are nearly over, and they may need to beat Adam Wainwright to keep them alive.

The Nationals will try to solve Wainwright and end a four-game skid to the Cardinals on Monday night.

St. Louis (91-65), which beat Washington (84-72) in last season's division series, is headed back to the playoffs after clinching a spot thanks to the Nationals' 4-2 loss to Miami in the opener of Sunday's doubleheader.

The Cardinals fell 6-4 at Milwaukee on Sunday, but lead Cincinnati and Pittsburgh by two games in the NL Central with six to go in the regular season.

Pirates at Cubs, 8:05 p.m.
Although they've fallen back into a tie for the top NL wild-card spot, the Pittsburgh Pirates have an opportunity to bounce back as they begin a three-game series against the lowly Chicago Cubs.

Closing in on their first playoff appearance in 21 years and trying to make it take place at home, the visiting Pirates will try to beat the Cubs for the 11th time in 17 meetings Monday night.

Pittsburgh (89-67) failed to take control of the race for home-field advantage in a potential wild-card playoff matchup with Cincinnati on Sunday, losing 11-3 at home to the Reds. That left the teams dead even.

"We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole early and they never let up, kept their foot on the gas pedal," said second baseman Neil Walker, who hit his 13th home run. "We have to continue to play good baseball and things will go our way."

Mets at Reds, 7:10 p.m.
Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker remains cautiously optimistic about starter Johnny Cueto, who is just one start removed from a long stint on the disabled list.

It's difficult to blame him given Cueto's injury history.

Trying to move closer to securing a third playoff appearance in four years, Cincinnati sends Cueto to the mound in Monday night's series opener with the New York Mets.

Cueto (5-2, 3.02 ERA) missed the start of the 2011 season with arm trouble, then went 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA in 2012 to help the Reds win the NL Central. But after a healthy season, he left Game 1 of the division series against San Francisco after only eight pitches with pulled muscles in his side.

Tigers at Twins, 8:10 p.m.
The Detroit Tigers were unable to wrap up the AL Central in front of their home fans.

But considering their weak competition over the final week, they shouldn't have too much trouble doing so on the road.

Justin Verlander takes the mound in Monday night's opener versus a Minnesota Twins team he hasn't lost to in 12 meetings.

The Tigers' magic number to clinch the AL Central remained at two following a 6-3 home loss to the Chicago White Sox on Sunday as well as Cleveland's 9-2 victory over Houston. Even with a Detroit (91-65) win on Monday, the division couldn't be clinched until Tuesday night at the earliest, when the Indians open their series with the White Sox.