N.L. Playoffs Chase: Thursday Morning Update

Jonathan Papelbon of the Philadelphia Phillies is congratulated by teammate Erik Kratz after defeating the Miami Marlins 3-1 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Uh, guess what. The Philadelphia Phillies are only three games out in the Wild Card standings. And they've got a four-game series against the Astros next. Hmm.

N.L. East W L
Nationals 89 54 -
Braves 81 63

In case you haven't been paying attention, all three divisions in the National League have been decided for a while now, and all that happened Wednesday was that they got more decided.

Thank the Baseball Gods for the Wild Cards, else we'd have nothing to follow at all. And oh, the things to follow, as the number of teams to follow in that race seems to grow by the hour. Well, maybe not by the hour, but suddenly there are four or five teams fighting for one spot.

Nationals 2, Mets 0: The Nationals hardly needed another win, but this one's notable because John Lannan, starting in place of Stephen Strasburg, pitched into the sixth inning without giving up a run. Both Washington runs came on homers, from Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond. Mets rookie Matt Harvey started, and struck out 10 Nationals in five innings.

Brewers 8, Braves 2: It's a good thing for the Braves that they entered this week with a huge lead in the Wild Card standings, considering they've just been swept by the Brewers. Milwaukee trailed 2-0 in the fifth, but sent 13 batters to the plate and scored eight runs, all against Paul Maholm, who had pitched so well since joining the Braves in late July. Yovani Gallardo went seven innings to earn his 15th win of the season. The loss meant little to Atlanta, but the win did mean something to the Brewers, now just three games out in the Wild Card standings. However improbably.

N.L. Central W L
Reds 87 57 -
Cardinals 75 68 11½

Reds 2, Pirates 1: Homer Bailey gave up one run in seven innings to out-duel A.J. Burnett and pace the Reds to a three-game sweep. Meanwhile, the Pirates have gone from seriously contending for a playoff spot to just trying to finish the season with a winning record, something that seemed almost sure just a few weeks ago. But since reaching their high-water mark (60-44) on the 1st of August, the Pirates have lost 26 of 38. And they're heading for a second straight second-half collapse, leaving one to wonder about Clint Hurdle's job security.

Padres 3, Cardinals 2: Gee, you'd almost think the St. Louis Cardinals don't want to win the second Wild Card. Not after they finished getting swept in San Diego. Kyle Lohse pitched well, but got hung with just his third loss of the season because the Cardinals couldn't solve solve Clayton Richard, whose only big mistake got turned into a two-run homer by Matt Carpenter in the sixth. That made the score 2-2, but the Padres took the lead in the next half-inning with a two-out rally capped by Yasmani Grandal's run-scoring single. The ninth would be excruciating for the Redbirds. With closer Luke Gregerson in the game, Allen Craig led off with a double. Pinch-runner Adron Chambers moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. With the infield in, though, Chambers stayed on third when Daniel Descalso grounded out. And after Carlos Beltran walked, Skip Schumaker grounded to first base to end the game.

N.L. West W L
Giants 81 62 -
Dodgers 74 69 7

Giants 8, Rockies 3: The Giants have essentially sealed the deal, opening up a huge lead over the second-place Dodgers. Wednesday, they ripped into Rockies starter Jeff Francis for five runs in the first inning, and finished up with two more runs in the ninth. Tim Lincecum pitched well enough in his six innings to run his record to 9-14. The West is all over but the shouting, folks.

Diamondbacks 3, Dodgers 2: The West is over but the Wild Card isn't, for the Dodgers anyway. Maybe not even for the Diamondbacks, now just four games out of the second spot. Fortunately for the Dodgers, none of the other top Wild Card contenders have been winning lately, which leaves them still in pretty good shape if they can just get past the Cardinals, somehow. Wednesday, the Dodgers grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Diamondbacks starter Trevor Cahill -- Adrian Gonzalez rapped a two-run double -- but then the gates closed, as Cahill and two relievers finished with eight scoreless innings. Meanwhile, the D'backs scored once in the first and twice in the sixth. Justin Upton did much of the damage, driving in two of Arizona's three runs.

N.L. Wild Card W L
Braves
81 63
Cardinals 75 68 -
Dodgers 74 69 1
Pirates 72 70
Brewers 72 71 3
Phillies 72 71 3

Phillies 3, Marlins 1: Florida's Josh Johnson carried a no-hitter into the bottom of the sixth inning, and owned a 1-0 lead thanks to Carlos Lee's RBI single in the top of the sixth. But then Johnson lost his no-hitter, his shutout, and ultimately the game. That inning, John Mayberry tied the game with his run-scoring single. And in the seventh, Jimmy Rollins got to Johnson for a two-run homer. Cliff Lee never faltered, going seven innings and giving up just the lone run. And in the ninth, Jonathan Papelbon worked around a walk and struck out the side to earn his 34th save of this season. Oh, and the Phillies a) have a winning record for the first time since early June, and b) are actually a part of the Wild Card discussion. However impossibly.

Up Next: It's an exceptionally light day in the National League, with only two games ... but both are fraught with meaning! The Phillies, who have won six in a row and 10 of their last 12, open a four-game series against the Astros. Anybody want to bet against them taking at least three of four in Houston? Even better, the Cardinals start a four-game set in Los Angeles that might go a long way toward determining who gets that second Wild Card.

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