The Atlanta Braves, the Oakland Athletics and the St Louis Cardinals can start planning for the Major League playoffs after joining the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers with guaranteed dates for the post-season.
The Braves won their first National League East crown since 2005 on Sunday, while the Athletics took their second straight American League West title. The Cardinals are still trying to win the National League Central, but are assured of at least a wild-card berth.
With a week of the regular season left, the race for the two American League wild-card spots is still tangled. Tampa Bay are half a game ahead of Cleveland, with Texas 1.5 games behind the Indians. Kansas City, the New York Yankees and Baltimore are lagging farther behind.
In the National League, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are tied for the wild-card slots.
The Braves got two homers by Andrelton Simmons in a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs that touched off a wild party in the cramped visitors’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field.
The game was in the sixth inning when Washington lost 4-2 to Miami in the opening game of a split doubleheader, giving the Braves the division championship. The Nationals bounced back to win the second game 5-4.
Simmons hit a solo drive in the fourth and a two-run shot in the eighth, giving him 17 homers in a year.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Brewers’ Norichika Aoki scored three times and doubled home a run as the hosts beat St Louis 6-4 hours after the Cardinals clinched a playoff berth.
Wily Peralta (11-15) gave up five hits and walked five in five-plus innings for the Brewers.
The Cardinals put the go-ahead run at the plate with two outs in the ninth, but closer Jim Henderson got slugger Matt Adams to strike out to end the game and earn his 26th save.
Oakland’s Coco Crisp hit a three-run homer, while Daric Barton and Jed Lowrie each had solo shots as the Athletics overpowered the Minnesota Twins 11-7.
The Athletics, who had the major leagues’ fourth-lowest opening day payroll at about US$65 million, clinched their 16th division crown and 25th post-season appearance when Texas lost 4-0 at Kansas City.
Sonny Gray (4-3) gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings, while Oswaldo Arcia homered and drove in six runs for Minnesota.
The 22-year-old left-hander allowed one hit and four walks in 4-2/3 shutout innings. Brandon Gomes (3-1) followed and struck out Manny Machado with a runner on second.
The Kansas City Royals blanked the Texas Rangers 4-0 after Justin Maxwell hit a two-out grand slam in the 10th inning off former Royals All-Star closer Joakim Soria.
Eric Hosmer hit a two-strike double leading off the 10th against Neal Cotts (5-3). Soria intentionally walked Billy Butler and a single by Salvador Perez loaded the bases.
In New York, after honoring Mariano Rivera in a pre-game ceremony and celebrating Andy Pettitte’s last regular-season home start, the Yankees saw their American League wild-card hopes dim in a 2-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants.
In other American League games, the Cleveland Indians downed the Houston Astros 9-2, the Chicago White Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 6-3, the Seattle Mariners edged the Los Angeles Angels 3-2 and the Boston Red Sox defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 5-2.
In the National League, the Cincinnati Reds trounced the Pittsburgh Pirates 11-3, the New York Mets edged the Philadelphia Phillies 4-3, the Los Angeles Dodgers shut out the San Diego Padres 1-0 and the Arizona Diamondbacks were 13-9 winners over the Colorado Rockies.
Additional reporting by staff writer