(St. Louis Public Radio) - The St. Louis Cardinals are division champions for the first time since 2015. 

The team walloped the Chicago Cubs 9-0 in front of a hometown crowd at Busch Stadium on Sunday, clinching their spot atop the National League Central Division. Milwaukee’s consecutive losses to the Colorado Rockies on Saturday and Sunday kept the Brewers two games behind St. Louis in the race for the title.

The Cardinals will open the playoffs Thursday in Atlanta against the Braves.

They’ll play Game 2 on Friday in Atlanta before returning to Busch Stadium for Game 3 Sunday, Oct. 6. The best-of-five series will continue, if necessary, with Game 4 in St. Louis on Oct. 7 and Game 5 in Atlanta on Oct. 10. 

“Nobody has more heart than this group,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt told his players in a televised post-game speech in the team's clubhouse, moments before they popped the corks on a celebratory champagne shower. 

“Nobody we’re going to play has worked harder, is more prepared. Not one person. Not one team,” he added.

Thursday’s game in Atlanta will mark a return to the postseason for one of Major League Baseball’s most successful franchises. The Cardinals have 11 World Series titles. The first was in 1926, and they last won it all in 2011. 

St. Louis has not been in the playoffs in four years, when they lost the National League Division Series to the Cubs.

Cardinals starting pitcher Jack Flaherty pitched 7 scoreless innings on just 69 pitches with six strikeouts Sunday after the team dropped a 8-6 loss to the Cubs the night before.

“There was no way we were going to lose today,” Flaherty told 5 On Your Side after the game. “We got another chance, and so we took advantage of it.”

Veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright, who gave up 12 hits including four home runs in Saturday’s loss, said his confidence in the team remained strong heading into the Cardinals' final game of the season. 

“It’s easy to have faith in your team when you have good players,” Wainwright said. “This is a complete group. This year we’ve got all the pieces, we’ve just got to go out and perform.”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid 

Republished with permission of St. Louis Public Radio: 

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