CHICAGO — The Cincinnati Reds became the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot this season, beating the Chicago Cubs 5-3 Thursday while manager Dusty Baker remained in a hospital after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.
The NL Central leaders ensured themselves of at least a wild-card spot. Cincinnati cut its magic number to two for winning the division for the second time in three years.
Baker missed his second straight game. The team said that if all goes well, he could return to Cincinnati on Friday.
Johnny Cueto (18-9) pitched six shutout innings as the Red completed a three-game sweep.
WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals brought postseason baseball back to the nation's capital for the first time since 1933, clinching a playoff spot Thursday night with a 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Nationals ensured at least an NL wild-card spot behind Ross Detwiler's six strong innings and Ryan Zimmerman's RBI double.
Washington's magic number to win the NL East was reduced to eight. The Nationals lead idle Atlanta by 5 1/2 games.
The Nationals became the second team in the majors to clinch a playoff spot this year. Cincinnati earned a slot earlier in the day.
ST. LOUIS — Pinch hitter Carlos Beltran snapped a sixth-inning tie with a two-run double and Allen Craig hit a three-run home run, powering the St. Louis Cardinals to a 5-4 victory Thursday that completed a season sweep at home over the Houston Astros.
Beltran's double put St. Louis up 5-3, rewarding Jaime Garcia (5-7) for keeping it close and putting the Cardinals 2 1/2 games up for the second NL wild card with 12 games remaining. They took care of business against the lowly Astros, who absorbed their 102nd loss.
The Cardinals were 6-0 at home against Houston, their first season series sweep in St. Louis since 1996. Bud Norris (5-13) allowed five runs on five hits and five walks in 5 1-3 innings for Houston.
PHOENIX — Jesus Guzman homered and Clayton Richard was effective enough as the San Diego Padres held on to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-5 on Thursday.
Richard (14-12) allowed four runs and eight hits in six innings to raise his career record against Arizona to 6-0 — including three wins in three starts at Chase Field over the past 10 weeks.
Anthony Bass, the last of five Padres pitchers in the ninth, struck out Aaron Hill on a checked swing for his first career save.
Adam Eaton hit his first career home run, Hill also homered and Justin Upton was a home run short of the cycle for the Diamondbacks.
Arizona fell 5 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the NL wild-card race.
Diamondbacks starter Tyler Skaggs (1-3) pitched in and out of trouble and allowed four runs on seven hits over five innings.
SAN FRANCISCO — Pablo Sandoval hit a three-run homer and a solo shot, and the NL West-leading San Francisco Giants reduced their magic number to clinch the division to four by beating the Colorado Rockies 9-2 on Thursday.
Buster Posey also connected for the Giants to back another strong start by Barry Zito (13-8) as San Francisco completed a four-game sweep.
Zito won his fifth straight decision and has done everything to earn himself a spot in the post-season rotation after being left off all three rounds for the 2010 World Series champions.
The second-place Dodgers were set for a night game at Washington, trailing by 9 1/2 games. San Francisco (87-63) moved a season-best 24 games above .500, its best since finishing the 2003 season 39 games over.
PITTSBURGH — Rickie Weeks hit a tying two-run triple and scored the go-ahead run on Aramis Ramirez's single, helping the surging Milwaukee Brewers rally for a 9-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.
The Brewers have won five straight, eight of nine and 15 of 19 to climb into the playoff race. They remained 2 1/2 games back of St. Louis for the second NL wild-card slot.
Milwaukee trailed 7-4 before it rallied for four runs in the eighth inning.
Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura opened the inning with consecutive singles off Chad Qualls. Norichika Aoki doubled in a run with one out and Weeks greeted Chris Resop (1-4) with a triple to the 410-foot mark in left-centre.
Ryan Braun was intentionally walked before Ramirez bounced a single into centre field to give Milwaukee an 8-7 lead.
NEW YORK — Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley sparked an eight-run first inning, Ryan Howard added a late grand slam and the Philadelphia Phillies routed the inept New York Mets 16-1 before a few hundred fans Thursday night at quiet Citi Field.
Rookie right-hander Tyler Cloyd (2-1) pitched eight innings of three-hit ball and the Phillies stayed four games behind St. Louis for the second NL wild card, with two other teams in their path. The Phillies and Cardinals both have 12 games left.
Juan Pierre matched a career high with five hits, Utley added four and Philadelphia set season highs for runs and hits (21) — including 19 singles. Utley had four RBIs, and his double in the sixth was the only extra-base hit until Howard hit his 12th career slam in the ninth.