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Cubs clinch NL Central with 5-1 win over Cardinals

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The Cubs clinched the NL Central on Wednesday evening, defeating the Cardinals 5-1 in St. Louis. It marks the club’s second consecutive division title and third consecutive playoff appearance.

The Cubs trailed the Cardinals 1-0 through six innings, but broke out in the seventh against starter Michael Wacha. Addison Russell belted a three-run home run and Jason Heyward hit an RBI double. After walking Rene Rivera, Wacha was lifted, but Tommy La Stella added an RBI double of his own to make it 5-1.

John Lackey pitched six effective innings for the Cubs, giving up just the one run on two hits and two walks with three strikeouts. Pedro Strop worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Hector Rondon, Brian Duensing, and Carl Edwards, Jr. combined to load the bases in the eighth inning, but managed to escape with no damage. Wade Davis sealed the deal in the ninth, working around a two-out double.

The Brewers fell behind 6-0 to the Reds after three innings, so the Cubs likely would’ve clinched anyway on Wednesday, but I’m sure they’re happy to have taken care of their own business and had the ability to celebrate on the field.

The Cubs will prepare for an NLDS matchup against the Nationals, as the Dodgers will play the winner of the Wild Card game.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).