The Pittsburgh Pirates’ bold bid for a playoff spot appears to be coming to end after they suffered a fifth successive loss on Tuesday, beaten 5-3 by a Cincinnati Reds team that continued its imperious march toward the National League Central title.
The Pirates, who usually spend September planning their postseason vacations, have hung around in the playoff picture much longer than usual in 2012, but Tuesday’s defeat pushed them to the fringes, 2.5 games off the second wild-card berth with 21 games to play. Cincinnati pitcher Mike Leake (8-9) did it all against the Pirates, pitching seven strong innings, getting two hits and even scoring a run by dashing home on a wild pitch in the decisive three-run second inning.
The St Louis Cardinals, who separate Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, still hold the wild card despite a worrying bout of form that has seen them lose 10 of 13 games. Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright (13-13) gave up five runs in five innings in Tuesday’s 6-4 defeat by the San Diego Padres.
The Los Angeles Dodgers had a chance to move level with St Louis but they too are in a form slump and were beaten 1-0 by the Arizona Cardinals. The Dodgers got a man on second in the ninth but Adrian Gonzalez struck out looking to end it.
The wild card now appears to be Los Angeles’ only hope, as they slipped six games behind the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants, who edged the Colorado Rockies 9-8. Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner struggled on the mound but made up for it at the plate, hitting a three-run homer in the fourth inning.
The mediocre form of so many of the top teams in the NL has opened a door for two late contenders, with the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers edging into playoff contention after their seasons had appeared shot a week ago. Both are back square at 71-71, leaving them four games off the wild card.
The Brewers beat the Atlanta Braves 5-0 to make it eight straight wins. Marco Estrada (3-6) was dominant for Milwaukee, pitching 6-2/3 scoreless innings.
The Phillies outslugged the Miami Marlins to win 9-7 and notch a sixth successive win. Jimmy Rollins homered and drove in three runs for Philadelphia, which have failed to match the level that saw them win the NL East for the past five years, but suddenly have fresh playoff hopes.
The Washington Nationals seem certain to succeed Philadelphia as NL East winners, pushing their lead over Atlanta to 7.5 games by beating the New York Mets 5-3. Bryce Harper had four hits for the first time in his career as Washington posted their 11th win in their past 12 visits to Citi Field.
In Tuesday’s other NL game, the Houston Astros beat the Chicago Cubs 1-0.
In the American League, the leadership of the tight East division is back level after the Baltimore Orioles won and the New York Yankees lost. Baltimore had a 9-2 win over Tampa Bay, putting the Rays two games behind the leaders. J.J. Hardy homered twice, doubled and drove in five runs for the Orioles. New York lost 4-3 at the Boston Red Sox. Jacoby Ellsbury drove in the winning run in the ninth inning for Boston, which has long been out of playoff contention but would have taken delight at the chance to put a spanner in the works of their archrivals.
In the West division, the Oakland Athletics recorded a key win over the Los Angeles Angels, 6-5. That increased the gap between the teams to 4.5 games, boosting Oakland’s chances of holding onto the first wild-card berth, while staying on the tail of the Texas Rangers, who lead the West by three games.