The visiting St. Louis Cardinals are making no secret of the fact that playoff preparation is their top priority in their final regular-season series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

That doesn’t mean the Cardinals have stopped being competitive before they start a best-of-three playoff series against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies on Friday.

St. Louis (93-68), which has wrapped up the National League Central title, and Pittsburgh (61-100) head into their regular-season finale Wednesday with the series up for grabs.

The Pirates scored a walk-off 3-2 win on Monday, and St. Louis answered by erasing an early four-run deficit on Tuesday in an 8-7, 10-inning win.

“We’ve got good hitters in that lineup and good pitching in the bullpen, so it’s never a doubt in anybody’s mind that we can come back,” Cardinals catcher Andrew Knizner told Bally Sports Midwest. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, when we’re playing them.”

St. Louis has rested some players, pulled some starters early and done unconventional things with its pitching in the series.

On Tuesday, for instance, the Cardinals left starter Dakota Hudson in to face 11 batters in the third, then finally pulled him after Pittsburgh scored six runs in the inning.

In addition, the Cardinals got starter Jack Flaherty an inning of work out of the bullpen.

St. Louis has not used catcher Yadier Molina this series. Same with third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is dealing with a quadriceps issue.

Molina apparently is just being rested, while holding out Arenado is mostly precautionary.

“I don’t think it’s anything serious, but with where we’re at in the season and where we’re at as far as playing Friday in the playoffs, just trying to be safe,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said of Arenado.

One issue St. Louis surely will closely monitor is the status of fireballing closer Ryan Helsley, who left in the eighth inning on Tuesday because of a jammed right middle finger. After catching a comebacker while off balance, he steadied himself with his right hand on the ground.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, can only try to end things on a positive note after hitting 100 losses for the second straight year.

“It’s unfortunate,” Pirates infielder Kevin Newman said. “Obviously, no one wants to come out and lose 100 games, but (we need to) just focus on coming back (next year) and work on getting that number down and try to get as many wins as we can.”

For the regular-season finale on Wednesday, St. Louis had not announced a starter, but it appears likely it will be a bullpen game to get multiple pitchers some work before the playoffs.

Pittsburgh is expected to go with right-hander Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12 ERA).

Oviedo will be making his seventh start with the Pirates since he came over from St. Louis in a trade. It will be his second straight start against his former club.

On Friday, in his first career appearance against the Cardinals, Oviedo gave up two runs in six innings during a 2-1 loss.

“It was exciting,” Oviedo said of facing St. Louis. “I tried not to think about emotions or feelings until the series is over. I just try to have the same mentality that I’ve been having in past games. Just try to keep it simple for now and just try to enjoy what I do.”

–Field Level Media