The St Louis Cardinals clinched their first National League (NL) Central division title in four years by beating the Chicago Cubs 7-0 on Friday behind the strong pitching of Lance Lynn and home runs by David Freese and Matt Holliday.
St Louis (95-65) have won six of seven and are tied with the Atlanta Braves for the best record in the NL. The Cardinals are assured of home-field advantage when the NL division series starts on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-1 in a series that will decide the NL wild-card game host on Tuesday night. With the Cardinals clinching the Central title, it comes down to who gets to host the wild-card playoff on Tuesday and the Pirates are one win away from taking it to Pittsburgh.
Marlon Byrd had three hits and Pedro Alvarez hit a two-run homer high off the batter’s eye to lead the Pirates. Cincinnati have lost three straight and scored one run in the last 22 innings.
In the American League (AL) playoff race, the Cleveland Indians beat the Minnesota Twins 12-6 to move into a tie with the Tampa Bay Rays for the first wild card, one game ahead of the Texas Rangers. Tampa Bay lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 6-3, while the Rangers beat the Los Angeles Angels 5-3.
Cleveland have won eight straight and 13 of 15, taking advantage of a schedule that ends with 10 games against the Houston Astros, the Chicago White Sox and the Twins, the three worst teams in the AL this season. Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera both had two doubles and Jason Kipnis was a homer short of the cycle for the Indians.
Meanwhile, the Rays wasted a 2-0 lead and committed a season-high three errors as their seven-game winning streak was broken. Toronto’s R.A. Dickey allowed two runs and five hits in 7-1/3 innings, retiring 13 of 14 during one stretch. The 38-year-old knuckleballer, acquired from the New York Mets during the offseason after he won the NL Cy Young Award, struggled earlier this season, but finished strongly going 5-1 with a 3.17 ERA in his last seven starts.
The Rangers gained some ground in the wild-card race with their fifth win in a row. Alex Rios had a tiebreaking RBI single in the seventh inning then scored on a two-out infield single by A.J. Pierzynski. The loss was the 82nd for the Angels, ensuring them of their second losing record in the past 10 seasons.
Elsewhere in the AL, the East division champion Boston Red Sox routed the Baltimore Orioles 12-3 to move closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Clay Buchholz allowed three runs over seven innings and Daniel Nava and David Ortiz each hit three-run homers for Boston, which opened an 8-0 lead by the third inning.
The Oakland Athletics beat the Seattle Mariners 8-2 to remain two games behind Boston (97-63) for the best record in the AL with two games left in the season. Bartolo Colon reached 18 wins for the fifth time in his career and Brandon Moss hit a three-run homer in the first inning for the AL West division champion Athletics.
In other games, Atlanta’s Chris Johnson led off the eighth inning with a homer and Kris Medlen allowed only two hits in eight innings as the NL East division champion Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies 1-0.
Medlen (15-12) strengthened his case to be the Braves’ starter in the first game of the NL division series next week. He allowed two hits with two walks and seven strikeouts and has won five straight decisions.