Braves top Nationals, extend Wild Card lead to three games

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The Braves aren’t out of the woods yet, but they are inching closer to winning the NL Wild Card.

Behind a three-run first inning against Stephen Strasburg, the Braves topped the Nationals 7-4 last night. The Cardinals lost to the Cubs 5-1, so the Braves now lead the National League Wild Card by three games with five games remaining.

Tim Hudson allowed three runs over 5 2/3 innings in the last night’s victory. He left the game with cramping in his neck, but the issue is considered minor and he should be fine if the Braves need him to start the season finale next Wednesday against the Phillies. However, at this point, it doesn’t look like the season will go down to the final day.

Strasburg allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits over four innings while striking out three and walking none. His command was a little shaky, especially in the first inning, but he retired 10 out of the final 11 batters he faced. He now has a 2.00 ERA and 14/0 K/BB ratio over 18 innings since returning from Tommy John surgery.

Dan Uggla and Brian McCann both knocked in a pair of runs in the win while Michael Bourn swiped two bases, giving him a major-league best 58 stolen bases for the season. Bourn was also involved in a blown run-down play in the top of the ninth inning in which he was able to score from second base because nobody was covering home plate.

The Braves’ magic number for the Wild Card is down to three. They’ll send Brandon Beachy up against Chien-Ming Wang this afternoon. As for the Cardinals, they’ll have Kyle Lohse opposing Rodrigo Lopez.

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. saved by the ivy

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The ALCS had a weird play in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but Game 4 of the NLCS did as well. This one involved Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. and his attempt to spark a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling.

After Alex Avila singled, Almora ripped a double to left field, past a diving Enrique Hernandez. The ball rolled to the ivy in front of the wall. Most outfielders there would’ve put their hands up, which would have alerted the umpires to call an immediate ground-rule double. Hernandez didn’t, instead fishing the ball out and firing it back into the infield. Avila had stopped at third base, but Almora kept running. Much to his surprise, he pulled up into third base to see his teammate standing there, resigned to his fate as a dead duck. Third baseman Justin Turner applied the tag on Almora for what he thought was the first out of the inning.

Almora, however, was then sent back to second base after the umpires correctly called a ground-rule double.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lucky break didn’t help as closer Kenley Jansen came in and took care of business, retiring all three batters he faced without letting an inherited runner score. The Dodgers won 6-1 and now lead the NLCS three games to none. They’ll try to punch their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday.