The San Francisco Giants opened a three-game lead atop the National League West division while putting a dent in Atlanta’s playoff ambitions by beating the Braves 5-2 on Thursday.
San Francisco starter Barry Zito (5-2) left the game in the ninth inning having held Atlanta scoreless while striking out five.
The Giants piled on four runs in the fifth inning, highlighted by Hector Sanchez’s two-run double.
Atlanta now trail Washington by 6-1/2 games for the NL East lead, with their season goals now appearing to be less about winning that division than holding off their rivals in the wild-card race.
In the Central Division, the Cincinnati Reds’ lead was trimmed to seven games after a 4-3 extra-innings loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. John Mayberry Jr hit the winning single in the bottom of the 11th.
The victory, combined with the New York Mets’ 1-0 loss to Colorado, moved the Phillies into sole possession of third spot in the East for the first time since April, but still effectively out of playoff contention.
The St Louis Cardinals moved a game clear in the fight for the second wild-card spot by beating the hapless Houston Astros 13-5. David Freese hit a three-run homer for the Cardinals, who had gone seven games without clearing the fences.
Meanwhile in the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Oakland Athletics 5-0 to close within 2.5 games of the New York Yankees in a revived fight for the AL East Division lead.
Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb (8-8) pitched his first major league shutout, striking out eight as the Rays moved closer to the division lead than they have been at any time for two months.
Oakland dropped into a tie with Baltimore and Detroit for the second and final wild-card spot, 2.5 games behind the Rays.
Detroit edged the Toronto Blue Jays 3-2 over 11 innings, with Alex Avila hitting the winning single with two outs. Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson also played a key role by keeping the game tied with a spectacular catch in the 10th.
In the West Division, both the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels won. Texas finished strongly for a 10-6 win over the Minnesota Twins, while the Angels won a thrilling see-sawing contest, beating the Boston Red Sox 14-13 in 10 innings over four hours and 34 minutes.
The Angels came from 6-0 down to take the lead, but could not shake off a dogged Boston, which rallied back from deficits in the sixth and the ninth innings. The Red Sox were within one out of taking a memorable win, but closer Alfredo Aceves (2-8) gave up five runs in the ninth and the game went to extra innings.
LA’s Kendrys Morales led off the 14th with a solo homer and the visitors tacked on another run to complete the three-game sweep and close within 3-1/2 games of the wild card.
Texas slugger Josh Hamilton had five RBIs and the Rangers scored six runs in the eighth to move six games clear atop the West.