Ryan Braun hit his National League-leading 41st home run on Wednesday night, and the Milwaukee Brewers kept their wild-card chances flickering with an 8-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Milwaukee moved within 3 1/2 games of St. Louis for the final NL wild-card spot, a long shot that left them with no margin for error. The Cardinals lost 2-0 to the Houston Astros.
Shaun Marcum (6-4) went six innings for his first victory since returning from an elbow problem, allowing only four hits, including Joey Votto's RBI double.
Norichika Aoki homered to start a three-run third inning off Bronson Arroyo (12-9) and added an RBI double. Braun, the NL's Most Valuable Player last season as the Brewers won the NL Central, hit a two-run shot in the seventh off Logan Ondrusek.
The Reds played all of their healthy regulars even though they have clinched the NL Central. Bench coach Chris Speier made out the lineup and checked with manager Dusty Baker, who changed it slightly.
Baker was hospitalized four days in Chicago last week for treatment of an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke. The 63-year-old manager visited the ballpark in the afternoon. Baker hopes to return to managing for the final series in St. Louis next week.
The Brewers play their final six games at home against Houston and San Diego.
Marcum saved their slim hopes for another day by emerging from his rut. The former Toronto Blue Jays right-hander went on the disabled list in June with tightness in his right elbow. He was 0-1 with a 5.16 ERA in his first six games back, but finally got that elusive win on Wednesday.
Votto's RBI double in the first caromed off the wall in left field, a few feet from the top. It was an encouraging sign for the Toronto-born Votto, who hasn't homered in his 18 games back from knee surgery. The first baseman missed 48 games because of torn cartilage and doesn't expect the knee to be back to normal until next season.
Votto, the NL's MVP in 2010, is batting .339 with 20 walks and one hit-by-pitch since his return.
The Reds loaded the bases in the fifth on a single and two walks, but Marcum got Scott Rolen to go down swinging on a 2-2 pitch, ending the Reds' last chance.
ATLANTA — Martin Prado homered and Paul Maholm combined with three relievers on a six-hitter as Atlanta showed no hangover from their champagne celebration after clinching an NL wild-card spot the night before.
The Braves remained four games behind first-place Washington in the NL East. The Nationals beat the Phillies, 8-4.
Prado hit a first-inning homer off Josh Johnson (8-14) and drove in Jose Constanza with a third-inning single. The Braves had only four hits.
Maholm (13-10) earned only his second win in his last seven starts. The left-hander gave up five hits with no walks and six strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.
PHILADELPHIA — Bryce Harper hit his 20th homer, Ian Desmond and Kurt Suzuki also connected and the Nationals moved closer toward winning their first division title since moving to Washington.
The 19-year-old Harper joined Tony Conigliaro as the only teenagers to reach 20 homers in big league history. The Nationals reduced their magic number in the NL East to four, holding a four-game lead over Atlanta, which beat Miami 3-0, with seven remaining.
John Lannan (4-0) gave up two runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings to win his second start since taking Stephen Strasburg's spot in the rotation. Strasburg, the all-star righty, was shut down after reaching his innings limit.
The Phillies, who closed within three games of St. Louis for the NL's second wild-card spot following a late push, are on the verge of elimination. The five-time defending NL East champions are 5 1/2 games behind the Cardinals.
SAN FRANCISCO — Matt Cain pitched seven innings and had two hits and an RBI to lead the hometown Giants to victory.
Brandon Belt added three hits, Pablo Sandoval singled twice and drove in two runs, and Marco Scutaro extended his career-best hitting streak to 14 games while helping Cain to his career-best 16th win.
It's San Francisco's first victory since clinching the NL West division for the second time in three years.
Miguel Montero and Gerardo Parra had two hits apiece for Arizona, which only managed to get one runner past second base while losing for just the third time in 10 games.
Cain (16-5) looked sharp in his next-to-last start in the regular season. The left-hander scattered four hits and had six strikeouts.
SAN DIEGO — Matt Kemp had four hits, falling a triple shy of the cycle, and four RBIs as Los Angeles used a rare offensive outburst to keep its slim playoff hopes alive.
Los Angeles, which has scuffled for the better part of a month, remained tied with Milwaukee, 4 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the second NL wild-card berth.
Kemp singled and scored in the first inning, hit a two-run double in the fourth and drove a two-run homer well over the fence in centre in the sixth, his 20th. His four hits and four RBIs tied his season highs. In 17 games against San Diego this year, he's hitting .407 with seven homers and 19 RBIs.
The Dodgers won for just the 13th time in 33 games since Aug. 19, the last time they were in first place in the NL West.
NEW YORK — David Wright broke the Mets' record for hits and Jeremy Hefner bounced back from a horrendous start in a victory that eliminated Pittsburgh from playoff contention.
Ruben Tejada tied a career high with four hits, including two RBI singles, and Scott Hairston doubled home a run as the Mets took advantage of some shoddy Pittsburgh defence to win for the fifth time in six games.
Jeff Locke (0-3), still searching for his first major league win after nine starts, was chased in the fourth inning.
Tied for the NL Central lead a week after the all-star game, the Pirates have faded quickly in the second half for the second consecutive year. They have dropped 19 of 25 and must go 5-2 the rest of the way to avoid a 20th straight losing season.
HOUSTON — Bud Norris pitched into the eighth inning for his first win since May 21, and Jose Altuve homered as Houston avoided a sweep.
Norris (6-13) allowed two hits and struck out seven without a walk in 7 1/3 innings to snap a career-long 12-game losing streak which spanned 18 starts in the last National League game in Houston with the Astros moving to the American League West for 2013.
The victory broke a 10-game winning streak for the Cardinals over Houston and cut their lead over Los Angeles and Milwaukee to 3 1/2 games for the second NL wild-card spot after both teams won Wednesday.
Norris hurled the gem despite a tough stretch where he has been slowed by a blister on index finger of his right hand and flu-like symptoms.
DENVER — Drew Pomeranz tossed five scoreless innings for his first win in more than two months and the hometown Colorado Rockies beat Chicago on a rainy night.
Charlie Blackmon homered and Chris Nelson had two hits and two RBIs in the Rockies' third straight win.
Dave Sappelt had two hits for Chicago, which is winless in 15 road games against NL West opponents.
Pomeranz (2-9) had been 0-6 with a 6.84 earned-run average since the all-star break and had lasted past the fourth inning just once in his last 10 starts. He allowed three hits in his first win since July 6.