ST. LOUIS -- The Reds may not know where they're going, but they know they have already been put through a pretty good pre-playoffs test.
Facing a Cardinals club trying to clinch a Wild Card spot, the Reds took a 3-1 win on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium that kept them alive for the top seed in the National League postseason heading into Game 162.
"There was a lot of energy for sure," said right fielder Jay Bruce, who hit an RBI single in the sixth inning for the go-ahead run. "I think this is a good series for us to play going into the playoffs. These guys are good, they play us tough and have a great team. It's a big series for them, and it's a big series for us because we still have some things hinging on the outcome of this series."
A Nationals win against the Phillies brought their magic number to take the top seed to one. Since Washington owns the tiebreaker based on head-to-head matchups with Cincinnati, it only needs to win its afternoon game to claim the best record in baseball and the No. 1 seed.
If the Reds end up with the No. 2 seed, they would open the NL Division Series at No. 3 San Francisco on Saturday. As the top seed, they would face the winner of the Wild Card game on Sunday. So the Reds will wait another day to learn their opponent.
"It's better than not waiting at all," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.
Regardless of the opponent, Cincinnati was encouraged by what it saw at the conclusion of the game. Closer Aroldis Chapman not only looked great retiring the side in order in the ninth for his 38th save, he was dealing the Cardinals some serious gas.
"That was the best that we've seen Chapman since he was back," Baker said.
Chapman, who missed 10 days in mid-September with left shoulder fatigue and didn't look good his previous time out, threw 13 of his 16 pitches at 100 mph or better. The left-hander reached 102 mph six times.
"Since the return to pitching, today has been the best day -- not just physically, but on the mound. I felt really good on the mound tonight," Chapman said through an interpreter.
During his entire inning, the 39,644 fans were on their feet making lots of noise to will the Cardinals to a comeback win. It was the epitome of a playoff atmosphere as the two teams have split the first two games of the series heading toward Wednesday's conclusion.
"They were up, there was a lot of excitement in the stadium," Chapman said. "There were a lot of people in the stadium. They want to win. They knew if they won, they were going to clinch the playoffs. It seemed like a playoff atmosphere, but honestly, I don't look for those things."
Reds starter Mat Latos pitched very well during his five-inning postseason tuneup, allowing one run and four hits with one intentional walk and four strikeouts. Latos gave up a leadoff double in the first inning to Jon Jay, who later scored from third base on Matt Holliday's sacrifice fly to make it 1-0.
"That was a super performance," Baker said. "Other than that first-inning double he gave up, he was still strong."
Before exiting, Latos finished by retiring his final 10 batters in a row. At one point, he had four straight strikeouts. He finished his first regular season with Cincinnati 14-4, tying a career high in wins, with a 3.48 ERA in 33 starts.
"I pitched pretty well. I like to pitch against a team like them," Latos said. "They are aggressive. They know what they're doing. They're a great hitting ballclub. To give up one run in five innings, you're doing pretty well."
Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter, who was making his third start after missing most of the season with a shoulder injury, gave up three runs over six innings of work. Scott Rolen tied the game in the fourth inning, when he hit a one-out solo homer to left field on Carpenter's first pitch.
In the sixth, Joey Votto drew a leadoff walk and went to third base when Ryan Ludwick drove a double to right-center field. Bruce's RBI single to center field scored Votto with the go-ahead run. With two outs, Dioner Navarro's RBI single to right field made it a two-run game.
"Unfortunately that inning got away from me a little bit, and there were some pitches over the plate, and they hit them. They did their job," Carpenter said.
Now 97-64, the Reds haven't won this many games since they went 102-60 in 1976. Whether one more win is good enough for the top seed, it remains to be seen. It's also unclear how much it will really benefit the club in the playoffs that feature a Wild Card game before the NLDS for the first time.
"We really don't know," Baker said. "I don't think anybody knows. You don't know if it will be advantageous to get first, second, third or the Wild Card. Right now, this is new to all of us."