MLB postseason picture: Cubs give themselves some breathing room in NL Central

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September is upon us, which means every race in Major League Baseball is headed for the home stretch. Every game matters more than ever to the teams competing for a postseason spot. That’s why every night between now and the end of the regular season we’ll bring you an updated look at the MLB postseason picture.

The Chicago Cubs might be stuck in the middle of a grueling schedule, but the team can’t afford to take a single game off. The Cubs picked up a much-needed 4-3 win in extras Thursday night in a make-up game against the Washington Nationals, giving the team some breathing room in the National League Central.

The win pushed Chicago ahead in the NL Central by 1.5 games. And while that’s not a lot, the team needs all the help it can get if it hopes to fend off the surging Milwaukee Brewers.

Milwaukee was idle Thursday, but the team has played well lately. The Brewers are 8-2 in their last 10 games, including taking two of three from the Cubs in their last series.

The Brewers also find themselves in a favorable position down the stretch. Three of the team’s four remaining series come against sub-.500 teams.

The Cubs have a harder go of it, but not by much, which is why the team extending their lead by just a half game could make a big difference down the stretch. Every win matters for both clubs, but the Cubs have the upper hand right now.

The Cubs extended their lead in the NL Central. (AP Photo)
The Cubs extended their lead in the NL Central. (AP Photo)

• AL East: The Boston Red Sox have already clinched the American League East and are now focused on locking up the best record in the AL. They have a pretty good chance of getting that done. The team picked up win No. 101 on Thursday with a 4-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

• AL Central: The Cleveland Indians did not play Thursday night. Their grasp on the American League Central is firm. The team holds a 15-game lead over the Minnesota Twins, who lost to the Kansas City Royals on Thursday.

• AL West: The Houston Astros didn’t play a game, but still managed to gain ground in the division. The Oakland Athletics stumbled against the Baltimore Orioles, losing 5-3. Oakland now trails the Astros by 3.5 games.

• AL Wild Card: The New York Yankees did not play Thursday. With the A’s loss, the Yankees’ lead for the top wild-card spot sits at 1.5 games. The A’s remain in the second AL wild-card spot, where they hold an eight-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays.

• NL East:Both the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies were off, so nothing changed at the top of the division. The Braves are still up by 7.5 games.

• NL West:The Colorado Rockies picked up another win against the Arizona Diamondbacks, pushing Arizona to 4.5 games back. The Los Angeles Dodgers continued to put pressure on the Rockies, beating the St. Louis Cardinals 9-7. Los Angeles is just 1.5 games behind the Rockies.

• NL Wild Card: The Brewers picked up a half-game lead for the first wild-card spot in the National League. They now lead the Cardinals by three games. With the loss, the Cardinals lead the Dodgers by just one game for the second wild-card spot.

Magic Number Watch

• Cleveland Indians — 2: Cleveland saw its chances improve even though the team didn’t play Thursday. The Twins’ loss to the Royals dropped Cleveland’s magic number to two games.

• Boston Red Sox — 6: The Red Sox’s recent hot streak has pushed the team’s magic number to just six. Cleveland and Boston are the only two teams in the majors with single-digit magic numbers.

If the playoff started tomorrow

Wild-card games: A’s at Yankees; Cardinals at Brewers

ALDS: Indians at Astros; Wild-card winner vs. Red Sox

NLDS: Rockies at Atlanta; Wild-card winner vs. Cubs

Elimination Watch

The Los Angeles Angels have been eliminated, and a number of teams could be next. The Twins and New York Mets sit just three games away from elimination. The San Francisco Giants aren’t far behind. They are four games away.

Friday’s must-see game

The Dodgers’ win over the Cardinals pushed the team within a game of the second wild-card spot in the NL. That means Los Angeles could even things up with a win Friday. The Dodgers will send Walker Buehler to the mound to get it done. He’ll be opposed by Jack Flaherty.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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