Best of MLB: Twins, Cubs clinch postseason berths

USA Today Images

Best of MLB: Twins, Cubs clinch postseason berths

CLEVELAND -- The Minnesota Twins became the first team to make the playoffs after losing at least 100 games the previous season, clinching an AL wild-card berth on Wednesday when the Los Angeles Angels lost 6-4 in 10 innings at Chicago.

The Twins couldn't secure their first spot in the postseason by themselves, losing 4-2 to the Indians, but that hardly mattered for a team that has overcome adversity and defied expectations while joining October's elite.

They won only 59 games a year ago, and it seemed as if the young Twins would be lucky to be competitive when the season began. But they got hot in August and haven't looked back in becoming the 13th team -- and first since the 2009 Seattle Mariners -- to go from 100-plus losses to a winning record the following season.

Nearly two hours after losing, the Twins began a celebration that seemed unimaginable two months ago.

Minnesota will play at either Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park in the wild-card game Tuesday night. Boston holds a three-game lead over New York in the AL East race (see full recap).

Cubs clinch 2nd straight NL central title
ST. LOUIS, Missouri -- Addison Russell hit a three-run homer and John Lackey pitched six strong innings as the Chicago Cubs clinched their second consecutive National League Central title with a 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday.

The Cubs reached the postseason for the third straight year for the first time since 1908. They are also the first defending World Series champion to win their division the next season since the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies and the first defending champion to reach the playoffs the next season since the Cardinals won the wild card in 2012.

The Cubs became the second visiting team to celebrate a title at Busch Stadium III. The 2009 Los Angeles Dodgers won the NLDS at St. Louis.

Lackey (12-11) retired the final 10 batters he faced. The former Cardinal struck out three and gave up two hits and two walks.

Six Cubs relievers combined for three scoreless innings of relief (see full recap).

Red Sox cut magic number to 2 with victory
BOSTON -- Reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello struggled in his final playoff tuneup, and David Price relieved him to solidify his role on the postseason roster as the Boston Red Sox beat Toronto 10-7 on Wednesday night to lower their magic number to two.

Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts homered in a five-run third inning for Boston after Porcello (11-17) gave up three runs in the first. The Red Sox scored one in the first and three in the second and then took a 9-4 lead in the third to chase Marco Estrada (10-9) and snap a two-game losing streak.

Boston, which is already guaranteed a playoff berth, maintained a three-game lead over the second-place Yankees in the division. They need two more wins or two more New York losses to clinch the first back-to-back AL East titles in franchise history (see full recap).

Diamondbacks rally for walk-off win over Giants
PHOENIX -- David Peralta capped a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning by drawing a one-out, bases-loaded walk, giving the Arizona Diamondbacks a 4-3 win over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday.

J.D. Martinez led off the inning with a solo homer, tying Ralph Kiner's 1949 NL record for home runs in September with 16. Martinez has 45 homers this season, 29 of them with the Diamondbacks, who acquired him in a trade with the Tigers on July 18.

His 36 RBIs this month set an Arizona record, surpassing Luis Gonzalez' 35 in June 2001.

Daniel Descalso jogged home with the winning run in the Diamondbacks' regular-season home finale. Arizona will be back in action at Chase Field next Wednesday in the NL wild card game.

All of the runs were charged to Giants closer Sam Dyson (3-3). J.J. Hoover (3-1) earned the win in relief.

Pablo Sandoval doubled twice and drove in two runs, and Jeff Samardzija threw three-hit ball for six innings for the Giants (see full recap).

Ben Lively states his case for spot on Phillies' pitching staff

USA Today Images

Ben Lively states his case for spot on Phillies' pitching staff


CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies will be without Mark Leiter Jr.'s versatile arm for about six weeks. An MRI performed Monday on the pitcher's sore right forearm showed a strained flexor muscle.

Leiter had a good chance to make the opening day roster as a long reliever or fifth starter. With him out, the Phillies could be in need of a swingman.

Could Ben Lively be that guy?

"I can pitch anywhere," the competitive 26-year-old right-hander said. "I don't care. Wherever they want, I'll pitch."

Lively did nothing to hurt his chances of making the club as he turned in five shutout innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in a rain-shortened 2-0 win Tuesday afternoon. He allowed just three hits, walked none and struck out four. He was particularly impressive in the fourth inning, striking out Justin Smoak and retiring Russell Martin on a tapper back to the mound with runners on second and third.

"I just tried to bear down and stick to the game plan," Lively said. "There's too much technology around here now. We have all the heat maps and we talked about it before the game and I just stayed with it."

Lively made 15 starts with the big club last year and 10 of them were quality starts in which he went at least six innings and gave up three or fewer earned runs. Lively doesn't have power stuff. He gave up 9.1 hits per nine innings last season and struck out just 5.3 per nine. Management would love to see some improvement in those areas — i.e., more of what he displayed on Tuesday.

"Lively was strong today," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He came out and attacked the zone.

"One of the things that is important is that we see some swing and misses with Lives and we saw a couple of bat-missing moments today that were, to me, a big deal. He induces quick contact, which is important, but we also like to see the ability to miss bats and we saw that on a couple of occasions, (Curtis) Granderson being most notable."

Granderson struck out twice against Lively.

"We look at past tendencies from recent years," Lively said of his pregame study. "The main one we looked at today was Granderson. He has a low slugging percentage on the outer half (of the plate), so we pounded him on the outer half the whole time."

With Jerad Eickhoff headed to the disabled list and Nick Pivetta likely to join Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez in the starting rotation, Lively appears to be vying for the fifth starter's job with Zach Eflin and non-roster invite Drew Hutchison. But he and Hutchison also could be vying for a long man's job in the bullpen.

By mid-April, the Phillies will probably have an eight-man bullpen. But they could break with an extra reliever because they won't need a fifth starter until April 11.

However it shakes out, Lively did not hurt his chances of landing some role with his performance Tuesday.

Roster moves
The Phillies sent catcher Logan Moore, infielder Mitch Walding and outfielder Andrew Pullin to minor-league camp.

What's up with Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez?

Photo: NBCSP

What's up with Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez?

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Sixto Sanchez, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, has been noticeably absent from game action in minor-league camp.

Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development, says there's nothing to be alarmed about.

"He had the flu and he's over it now," Jordan said. "He's fine now. No issues. He's 100 percent."

Jordan said Sanchez got up to 30 pitches in a bullpen session this week.

"He let it go with all his pitches," Jordan said.

Jordan added that Sanchez would pitch in a game in the next few days. He added that Sanchez would open the season on time with the Clearwater club, though his innings will be watched at the outset until he's fully stretched out.

Sanchez, 19, is a power-armed right-hander with remarkable control. He went 5-7 with 3.03 ERA in 18 starts at Lakewood and Clearwater, both Single A affiliates, last season. He pitched 95 innings, struck out 84, walked 18 and had a WHIP of 0.958.