Jack Flaherty pitched seven strong innings as the host St. Louis Cardinals captured the National League Central title with a 9-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.
The Cardinals (91-61) will play the Atlanta Braves in the NL Division Series on Thursday. The second-place Milwaukee Brewers will face the Washington Nationals in the wild-card game Tuesday.
The third-place Chicago Cubs (84-78) ended a disappointing season with a farewell loss for manager Joe Maddon, whose contract was not renewed after his five-year run.
The Cubs announced his departure before the game. Maddon led the team to postseason play in his first four seasons and won one World Series title, the franchise’s first since 1908.
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt hoped to save Flaherty for the first game of the playoffs, but elected to start him with the division title in the balance heading into Game 162.
Flaherty (11-8) needed just 69 pitches to record his 21 outs. He struck out six batters and allowed just two hits and one walk.
After finishing the second half of the season with an 0.91 ERA, Flaherty is expected to start Game 2 in the NLDS.
Maddon had to divvy up Sunday’s innings among his relievers with starting pitchers Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks shut down. Losing pitcher Derek Holland (2-5) started and got just six outs while allowing seven runs on five hits and four walks.
Dexter Fowler and Tommy Edman led off the first inning with walks and Paul Goldschmidt hit an RBI single. Edman scored on Marcell Ozuna’s double-play grounder to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.
After Flaherty’s two-out single in the second, Fowler crushed a two-run homer to make it 4-0. He had been hitless in his previous 15 at bats.
The onslaught continued in the third inning with Ozuna’s RBI single and Matt Carpenter’s three-run homer. Goldschmidt’s solo homer in the fourth inning pushed the Cardinals’ lead to 9-0.
With veteran utility player Ben Zobrist possibly playing his final game in the big leagues, Maddon let him pitch the eighth inning. Zobrist walked two batters but kept the Cardinals off the board.