NL Division, Wild Card races heat up as contenders face-off

The Sports Network
9/21/2012 12:13:53 PM
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Atlanta Braves @ Philadelphia Phillies

(Sports Network) - The playoff-bound Atlanta Braves can all but extinguish the postseason hopes of the Philadelphia Phillies tonight when the teams open a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park.

The Braves, who are second in the National League East Division and trail Washington by 5 1/2 games, are 8 1/2 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers in the chase to secure one of the league's two wild card berths.

Atlanta is six games ahead of St. Louis, which now holds the second wild card slot.

The Phillies are fifth in the overall race for the two spots and trail the Cardinals by four games.

For the Braves, right-hander Tommy Hanson tries to snap a skid that's left him winless since July 30.

The 26-year-old has started six times since and is 0-3 with three no-decisions while his earned run average has crept slightly up from 4.29 to 4.33.

He pitched five innings against the Nationals in his most recent start on Sept. 15, allowing two earned runs on five hits while getting a no-decision in the Braves' 5-4 win.

Hanson is 2-2 in nine career starts against the Phillies with a 3.06 ERA in 47 innings.

Philadelphia counters with righty Kyle Kendrick, who's had significant success in 18 career meetings with the Braves.

The 28-year-old has won six of seven decisions while posting a 2.87 ERA while starting 12 times and relieving six more against Atlanta.

His last meeting with the Braves was Aug. 8 in Philadelphia and he was uncharacteristically ineffective, allowing six runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings of a game the Phillies lost, 12-6.

In seven starts since, Kendrick is 5-2 and has trimmed his ERA from 4.86 to 3.95.

On Thursday in New York, the Phillies brought 13 hitters to the plate and scored eight runs during a 33-minute first inning en route to thumping the Mets, 16-1, and finishing off a three-game sweep at Citi Field.

Jimmy Rollins, Juan Pierre and Chase Utley combined for 11 hits, eight RBI and six runs scored.

"We didn't have things go the way we wanted them to go (while the Cardinals played) in Houston," Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said. "Four down, the only thing we can do is continue to win and let everything else sort itself out."

On Wednesday in Miami, Kris Medlen spun eight shutout innings to guide the Braves to a 3-0 triumph over the Marlins in the finale of a three-game set at Marlins Park.

Medlen (9-1) scattered four hits and struck out six to earn his eighth straight winning decision.

The Braves have won 21 consecutive games that Medlen started dating back to 2010. The last team to win 21 straight starts by one pitcher was the New York Yankees, who won 22 straight Whitey Ford starts in 1950 and 1953. Ford missed the 1951 and 1952 seasons for military service.

"I felt good. I didn't have that two-seamer coming back to lefties, I was kind of pulling a little bit," Medlen said. "Overall I felt great. I was trying to get a feel for the game, trying to see if they were going to be aggressive, or patient. I don't know I kind of just mixed and matched."

Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Jose Constanza each drove in a run for the Braves.

The Braves won 10 of the first 15 games between the teams in 2012, but the Phillies won two of three when they last played from Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Atlanta. Philadelphia won 12 of 18 games in 2011.

St. Louis Cardinals @ Chicago Cubs

(Sports Network) - The last time that Chris Carpenter pitched on a big league mound, he helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series.

Nearly 11 months later, the veteran starter is set for a somewhat surprising return as he takes the hill on Friday aiming to move his club closer to a postseason spot in the opener of a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs.

The 37-year-old Carpenter was a workhorse last season, logging 237 1/3 innings in the regular season before going 4-0 with a 3.25 earned run average in six postseason starts. That fourth victory came in Game 7 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers.

Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner, experienced issues with his shoulder before the start of the season and underwent surgery in July because of thoracic outlet syndrome. The procedure was expected to sideline the righty for the rest of the year, but he instead returns in the middle of a playoff chase.

"I've pitched in plenty of games that have mattered, so I'm going out there with the same focus, the same program, and that's to mentally and physically prepare to get outs and give us a chance to win," Carpenter said on St. Louis' official website. "Hopefully, I can help us get going on a little push and that we can put a little run together here."

Carpenter threw a 90-pitch simulated game last Saturday and is 11-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 25 career meetings with the Cubs.

St. Louis is 2 1/2 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers for the NL's second wild card position after winning its fourth straight game on Thursday. The Cards edged out a 5-4 win over the Houston Astros to finish off a three-game sweep.

Carlos Beltran was not in the starting lineup after coming out early on Wednesday due to knee tightness, but he came off the bench yesterday and delivered a deciding two-run double in the sixth inning.

"They told me if a situation came up where guys were in scoring position, they were going to use me," Beltran said. "So I'm not surprised. The manager is the one making the calls and I just have to be ready when he needs me."

Allen Craig hit a three-run homer and Jamie Garcia yielded three runs over six innings to pick up the win.

The Cubs will look to play spoiler on Friday behind Chris Volstad, who is coming off a no-decision against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday.

Volstad, who will turn 26 this Sunday, was charged with six runs on 10 hits, two homers and four walks in 4 2/3 innings of work. He was taken off the hook for a decision due to his club's 13-9 win.

The righty is 3-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 18 games this season and 2-3 with a 5.15 ERA in six career meetings with the Cardinals.

Chicago has lost five of its past six and dropped a 5-3 decision on Thursday to Cincinnati, a victory for the Reds that officially locked up their postseason berth.

Anthony Rizzo finished with two hits and two RBI for the Cubs, while Jason Berken yielded just two hits over six scoreless innings. However, reliever Manny Corpas was tagged for five runs on six hits in the seventh inning.

"For me, it's just a matter of stringing together a couple more good starts and going into the offseason on a positive note," Berken said.

The Cardinals are 8-6 versus the Cubs this season despite losing four of six in Chicago.

Milwaukee Brewers @ Washington Nationals

(Sports Network) - With their first playoff berth in 31 years officially clinched, the Washington Nationals can turn their attention to the NL East crown.

The Nats, though, face perhaps the hottest team in baseball as they begin a four-game series with the hard-charging Milwaukee Brewers on Friday evening.

When Drew Storen struck out the side on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he sealed off a 4-1 victory that was the Nationals' 91st win of the season. That clinched at least a wild card berth for the club, giving the franchise its first playoff spot since the 1981 Montreal Expos.

It's the first time in 79 years that a team from Washington D.C. has made the postseason since the 1933 Washington Senators fell to the New York Giants in the World Series.

"This is definitely a meaningful moment," Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said of the momentous win. "We'll celebrate tonight and go back to work tomorrow."

Work for the Nats now means a division title. Washington owns a 5 1/2-game lead over the second-place Atlanta Braves in the NL East, giving it a magic number of eight to claim the top spot.

The Braves visit the Philadelphia Phillies for three games this weekend.

Washington faces its own challenge in Milwaukee, which has won five straight, eight of nine and 19 of its past 24 to get back into the playoff chase. The Brewers logged a 9-7 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday to remain 2 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL's second wild card spot.

Milwaukee avoided a loss on Thursday when Aramis Ramirez ripped a go-ahead RBI single to cap a four-run eighth inning. Ramirez also homered in the 9-7 win.

"It would have been easy for us to not fight and come back, and the guys keep doing it," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of his team's come-from-behind victory.

Hoping for his first victory since June 8, the struggling Shaun Marcum takes the mound tonight for the Brewers.

Marcum will be making his sixth start since missing two-plus months due to injury and has allowed four runs in each of his last three outings. The righty has also pitched past the fifth inning just once since his return and lasted only four frames in a no-decision versus the New York Mets on Saturday.

"Shaun didn't have good command. He's a command pitcher but he didn't have it," said Roenicke. "I don't know what the reason is. I thought his stuff was good, his fastball was good, but his location wasn't."

The 30-year-old is 5-4 with a 3.91 earned run average in 18 starts this season and will face the Nationals franchise for the second time in his career. He would love to duplicate the first, when he got the win after giving up two runs on three hits -- two solo homers -- over seven innings while striking out 11.

The Nationals turn to Edwin Jackson, who is 9-10 with a 3.89 ERA through 28 starts this season and did not factor into a 5-4 loss to the Braves on Saturday.

The 29-year-old right-hander was charged with four runs -- three earned -- on four hits, two homers and a walk, also striking out seven over 5 1/3 innings.

Jackson was excellent in a win over the Brewers back on July 26, logging seven scoreless innings while scattering eight hits and a walk with four strikeouts. He moved to 3-2 with a 3.46 ERA lifetime in the series.

The Nationals took three of four in that series at Milwaukee and won all three meetings at home versus the Brewers last season.

Los Angeles Dodgers @ Cincinnati Reds

(Sports Network) - The Cincinnati Reds know they aren't done yet.

One day after locking up a postseason berth, the Reds hope to give themselves a chance at the NL Central crown on Friday evening in the first of three straight games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Cincinnati clinched at least a wild card berth with Thursday's 5-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs and now eye the division title. The Reds can clinch their second first-place finish in three years with a victory tonight as well as a loss by the St. Louis Cardinals, who trail Cincinnati by 11 games in the standings.

With a division title just about guaranteed, the Reds are also battling the NL East-leading Washington Nationals for the league's best record. Both teams currently have 91 wins, but the Reds have one more loss.

Joey Votto drove in a run and Johnny Cueto hurled six innings of five-hit ball to win Thursday's game.

"Anything less than winning the World Series is selling ourselves short," Votto said. "That's our goal."

Cincinnati was again without manager Dusty Baker, who remained in a Chicago hospital because of an irregular heartbeat. Baker is hoping to be in Cincinnati for tonight's game, but isn't expected to manage.

Bench coach Chris Speier has filled in for Baker over the last two games.

The Reds hope to clinch tonight behind Bronson Arroyo, who had a string of five straight winning decisions snapped on Friday with a loss at the Miami Marlins.

Arroyo yielded four runs on nine hits and two walks over six frames, striking out six in his first loss since Aug. 6.

"Bronson didn't do badly, we just didn't put up any runs," Baker said of his starter. "He just made that one mistake on (a solo homer to Miami's Greg) Dobbs. Other than that he threw the ball pretty well."

The right-handed Arroyo is 12-8 with a 3.74 earned run average in 29 starts this season.

In 14 career meetings with the Los Angeles Dodgers, including 13 starts, the 35-year-old Arroyo is 5-4 with a 3.92 ERA.

Once contenders for the NL West crown, the Dodgers are playing themselves out of a postseason berth as they sit three games behind the Cardinals for the league's second wild card spot. They lost for the 10th time in 14 games on Thursday, falling 4-1 to the Washington Nationals.

Chris Capuano allowed four runs -- three earned -- on six hits and a walk for the Dodgers.

"We're going in the wrong direction," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.

Mattingly hopes that Joe Blanton can earn his second victory tonight with Los Angeles since coming over in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies. The righty is just 1-4 with a 6.07 ERA in eight games since the deal and did not factor into a victory over the Cardinals on Saturday after yielding three runs over 5 2/3 innings.

Blanton, 31, is 9-13 with a 4.97 ERA in 29 total appearances this season as well as 2-0 with a 4.85 ERA in four career starts versus the Reds.

The Dodgers won two of three versus the Reds at home in early July.

Chris Carpenter (Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)


(Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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