After doing their best to keep St. Louis from clinching a playoff spot by beating the Cardinals 3-1 on Tuesday night, manager Dusty Baker isn't so sure.
"We don't know if it's going to be advantageous to get first, second or third or the wild card," Baker said. "Right now, this is all new."
The Reds and Nationals are both 97-64. Cincinnati needs a win and a Nationals loss Wednesday to earn home-field advantage throughout the postseason, expanded to include five teams from each league this year.
The NL Central champions still don't know who they will play in the division series, although facing the Cardinals could prove to be a nice tuneup for the playoffs.
"It's a lot of energy," said Jay Bruce, who had an RBI single. "I think it's a good series for us to play going into the playoffs.
"Scott Rolen actually pointed that out to me. If we had gone somewhere where they're not a contender, we would have been like, 'All right, let's get this over.' But these guys are good, they play us tough."
Mat Latos won his fourth straight decision to finish the regular season and Rolen homered off Chris Carpenter, helping to keep St. Louis' postseason plans on hold for a few hours. But the Cardinals wrapped up the second NL wild card—baseball's final playoff berth—when the Los Angeles
Rookie manager Mike Matheny said he was sending his St. Louis players home to get some rest, rather than remain in the clubhouse to watch the Dodgers and hope for a late-night victory party, which is what they did Monday.
Almost everybody stayed put, though, and Matheny said the players who left were back in the clubhouse well before the Cardinals learned they'd be headed back to the playoffs to defend their World Series championship.
Reporters were not allowed into the victory celebration, but loud cheering could be heard beyond the locked door just outside the clubhouse.
"I think they realized how special this is," Matheny said. "You can't take these for granted. We were talking about it being kind of subdued and it was, but they're still proud. And had every right to be."
The Cardinals will play at Atlanta on Friday in the new one-game playoff. Matheny said Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA) will start against the Braves.
The 37-year-old Carpenter (0-2) has a wealth of big-game experience and went 4-0 in the postseason last fall for the World Series champions, memorably outdueling Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the NL division series.
Injured most of this season, Carpenter made just his third start of the year gave up a pair of runs in the sixth to snap a 1-all tie. Bruce and Dioner Navarro had RBIs.
Despite the loss, the Cardinals are 11-4 in their last 15 games. Now they can hold back Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94), who had been set to pitch the regular-season finale against Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.75), who is coming off a no-hitter at Pittsburgh.
Prized rookie Shelby Miller will get his first career start in place of Wainwright.
Latos (14-4) had an abbreviated appearance while freshening up for the postseason and, like teammate Bronson Arroyo a day earlier, worked five innings and threw fewer than 75 pitches. Latos allowed a run on four hits with four strikeouts, all in a span of four at-bats against the bottom of the St. Louis lineup.
The 24-year-old Latos was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA over his last seven starts and set career highs in starts (34) and innings (209 1-3).
"Pitching against a team like them, they're aggressive, they know what they're doing," Latos said. "A great hitting ballclub. To give up one run in five innings is doing pretty well."
With what was left of an announced crowd of 39,644 standing and hooting, Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 38th save in 43 chances. He has allowed just one hit in four scoreless appearances covering four innings since returning from a nine-game absence due to shoulder fatigue on Sept. 21.
Carpenter gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings while losing for the fifth time in 19 career decisions against Cincinnati. He had seven strikeouts, two more than his total for the first two starts over 11 innings.
"I've said all along this is like my third spring training start in a key situation," Carpenter said. "I'm concerned about the stuff and the sharpness and tonight it was better than the last time.
"So, hopefully I get another shot."
The Cardinals stranded two runners in the second and third against Latos and had two on with one out in the seventh before Sean Marshall got pinch-hitter Shane Robinson to fly out and Jon Jay on a broken-bat groundout.
Rolen tied it in the fourth when he jumped on a first-pitch hanging breaking ball for his eighth homer.
Baker played for keeps in the early going. He brought the infield in with a runner on third and one out in the first for Matt Holliday, who hit a sacrifice fly, then intentionally walked eighth-place hitter Pete Kozma with two outs and a man on third in the second inning to get to Carpenter, who grounded out sharply to third.
NOTES: Reds pinch-hitter Todd Frazier grounded out sharply with two on to end the sixth, dropping him to 6 for 12 with three RBIs in that role. ... Joey Votto doubled and walked twice and has a major league-leading .515 on-base percentage with 27 walks since returning to the lineup Sept. 5.