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Athletics, Cardinals surging toward playoff position

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Oakland and St. Louis both won again last night. The A’s for the fourth time in a row and for the eleventh time in thirteen games. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have won seven in a row, nine of ten and eleven of thirteen themselves. The A’s win over Seattle last night, combined with the Houston Astros loss to the Rockies, move them to within one game of the AL West lead. The Cards’ win over the Nationals combined with the Phillies’ loss moves them to within one game of the second Wild Card slot. They sit two behind the Brewers for the first slot and only four games back of the first place Cubs.

Absolutely no one picked the A’s to make the playoffs in 2018. If someone says they did, ask for receipts. As the season’s first couple of months unfolded, picking them to not contend seemed like the smart play. They trailed the Astros by 11.5 games as late as June 15. Last night Bob Melvin chalked the team’s success up to “hitting a lot of home runs and winning close games.” That’s true. It’s also true that the team has put together a huge number of spare parts and castoffs from elsewhere, particularly on the pitching staff — Edwin Jackson? Old friends Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill? Relievers Jeurys Familia, Fernando Rodney and Shawn Kelley ? — with an underrated core of Matts Chapman and Olson, Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis. It’s a balanced roster in an era of a striking lack of competitive balance and everyone is exceeding expectations.

The Cardinals are usually considered contenders, but when they fired manager Mike Matheny in mid-July they were only a game over .500 and seven and a half out in the division. It took them a little time to get some momentum under interim manager Mike Shildt — the Cardinals were sellers at the deadline, unloading Tommy Pham and dumping disappointing reliever Greg Holland — but they’ve put it together in spectacular fashion in recent weeks. An injury that took massively underachieving outfielder Dexter Fowler out of the lineup and allowed for more playing time for the speedy Harrison Bader helped. Matt Carpenter playing out-of-his-mind MVP ball has helped even more. Jose Martinez and even old timer Yadier Molina have been solid offensive contributors. Mood can’t hurt either, and getting rid of Matheny had to have helped that, at least if you believe the stories about the clubhouse atmosphere before he was canned.

Whatever the causes — and in baseball there are always several — the A’s and the Cards are on fire and are making real races in divisions that were not expected to have them this season. Now we watch to see if they can keep the pressure on the Astros, the Cubs and all of the Wild Card contenders for the final month and a half of the campaign.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Diamondbacks 4, Braves 1: 🎶Stop me, oh-oh-oh, stop me . . .stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before . . .🎶

Sorry. Just waylaid by this Braves bullpen. Nothing’s changed. It’s enough to make a shy, bald, Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder. Me watching the game: 🎶 I drank one. It became four. And when I fell on the floor I drank more.🎶

Christian Walker hit a two-run homer in the seventh off of Chad Sobotka, who, didn’t get an out and who has given up five runs in his last two outings. The Diamondbacks have won four straight.

Nationals 4, Giants 2: Patrick Corbin took a one-hitter into the eighth inning and ended having allowed only one run on two hits while punching out nine. Not literally, though. If he punched out nine guys he’d probably be arrested.

Tigers 9, White Sox 7: Detroit ends a five-game skid. Nicholas Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera led the way, with the former going 3-for-4, the latter 2-for-4 and both driving in two runs. Dustin Peterson and Grayson Greiner also each drove in two, but they don’t get to be characterized as “leading the way” because baseball has a pretty strict seniority system and if you get too loosey-goosey with it you got a big hassle with the union and I’ve already had too many fires to put out this week, OK?

Blue Jays 7, Twins 4: Randal Grichuk, who got all “play the game the right way” on Tim Anderson on Wednesday, hit a homer. After which he gently laid his bat down parallel to the base line, assumed an expression which suggested mild pleasure but copious humility and then stoically ran the bases at a speed which reflected his obvious reverence for players past, present and future. I’m assuming at least.

Here’s what he actually said:

“I’ve never been one to flip a bat or do anything like that. I run out of the box always. I’ve hit some pretty far homers and I’ve sprinted out of the box like it was a wall-scraper. It’s just who I am. (Other) guys are different.”

Someone give that guy the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Justin Smoak and Teoscar Hernández hit home runs too. No word on whether Grichuk silently judged them afterwards. The Jays took three of four from the Twinkies.

Royals 6, Yankees 1: Homer Bailey — Homer Bailey? — yes, Homer Bailey held the Bombers to one run over six. Jorge Soler and Ryan O'Hearn hit dingers. New York got four singles in the game. That’s it. I guess with the Red Sox and Cubs being off someone had to step up and satisfy the “big money teams stinkin’ up the joint” quota for the evening.

Dodgers 3, Brewers 1: Before the game Dave Roberts announced that Julio Urías would head to the bullpen after this start since the Dodgers will soon be getting a couple of veteran pitchers back. Then Urías goes out and tosses six one-hit shutout innings while striking out nine. There are teams that would kill to have the sort of depth that would allow this kid to be shuffled off to long relief after a start like this. Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy homered in a winning cause. Christian Yelich homered in a losing cause.

Orioles 6, Rays 5: Joey Rickard drove in the winning run in the 11th inning with an RBI double. To even get him up to bat required Chris Davis to hit a two-out RBI single, and I wonder what the odds of that happening were. RIckard himself was no sure bet to play the hero here after coming into the game on an 0-for-15 skid, but he reached base five times and drove in two on the night. Dude used to be a Ray, too. Or at least in their system. Baltimore swiped him from Tampa Bay in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft. Here’s another killer for the Rays: Tommy Pham, who was 4-for-5 with two driven in, was on second base with one out in the bottom of the ninth and the score tied but . . . got picked off while trying to steal third base. Ouch.

Rockies 6, Phillies 2: Ryan McMahon homered twice and had five RBI. Kyle Freeland pitched six scoreless innings but had to leave with a blister, so that’s worth watching. Colorado was won four in a row.

Mariners 11, Angels 10: The M’s had a 10-2 lead heading into the seventh and totally blew it when the Angels scored seven runs on seven hits in the seventh and got a David Fletcher homer in the eighth to tie things up. Seattle rallied in the ninth, though, with pinch hitter Jay Bruce singing in Mitch Haniger for the winning margin. Before all of that messiness the M’s bottom of the order, in the form of Omar Narváez and Ryon Healy, combined to drive in nine. Healy homered twice. Narváez hit a three-run shot. Speaking of shot, all the pitchers in this one probably should’ve been.

Reds 4, Padres 1: Joey Votto led off in this came, which was odd, and he hit a homer to start the game. Padres starter Chris Paddack said after the game that he “thought I could blow a heater by him.” Bless his heart. Fernando Tatís Jr. led off too, which is also new, and went 2-for-4. Tucker Barnhart and Jesse Winker also homered, helping Cincy snap a four-game losing skid.