Cardinals hoping Molina is good to go vs. Cubs in NLDS

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Cardinals all-star catcher Yadier Molina, shown here during a practice on Wednesday in St. Louis, has been out of the lineup since Sept. 20 but expects to play Friday against the Cubs.

    Cardinals all-star catcher Yadier Molina, shown here during a practice on Wednesday in St. Louis, has been out of the lineup since Sept. 20 but expects to play Friday against the Cubs. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/8/2015 12:54 PM

As the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates battled for their playoff lives Wednesday night at PNC Park, the Cardinals kicked back in St. Louis and awaited the winner.

The Cardinals earned the break by finishing the regular season with baseball's best record (100-62) and finishing in front of the Pirates and Cubs in the rugged NL Central.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As they watched from afar, the Cards also had the luxury of knowing they would have to face either Pirates ace Gerrit Cole or Cubs ace Jake Arrieta only one time in the upcoming National League Division series.

With Arrieta continuing his remarkable run Wednesday night, the Cubs beat Pittsburgh 4-0 in the wild-card game.

Considering the Cardinals got a few extra days rest and have home-field advantage for the NLDS, they seemingly have an edge over their longtime division rivals.

As Game 1 approaches late Friday afternoon at Busch Stadium, St. Louis' overall health remains the big concern, however.

Yadier Molina might be the Cardinals' most important postseason player, considering his skill handling the pitching staff and his .290/.344/.375 hitting line with 3 home runs and 31 RBI in a staggering 86 playoff games with St. Louis dating back to 2004.

The 33-year-old catcher has been out since Sept. 21 with a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Molina has been working out at Busch Stadium this week, and manager Mike Matheny told reporters he is "much more optimistic" the seven-time all-star will be behind the plate Friday in Game 1.

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Molina has been wearing a splint on the thumb and while he might be good to go, he is likely to be rusty and also has to deal with the pain factor.

Elsewhere on the Cardinals' injury front, starting pitcher Carlos Martinez (14-7, 3.01 ERA) was shut down in late September with a right shoulder strain. He is done for the season.

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis' No. 1 starter when the season opened, tore his left Achilles tendon while batting in an April 25 game at Milwaukee. Expected to miss the rest of the season, Wainwright returned as a relief pitcher on Sept. 30 and allowed 1 run on 2 hits over 3 innings in 3 appearances. The right-hander will be in the Cardinals' bullpen for the NLDS and is hoping to come on in "high leverage" situations.

Matt Adams (quad strain), Stephen Piscotty (concussion) and Randal Grichuk (elbow strain) are all expected to be ready to play against the Cubs.

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