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Colts enter December in position to make playoffs

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Colts enter December in position to make playoffs

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indianapolis Colts have a rookie quarterback, an interim coach, a long injury list and one of the league's youngest teams.

It's not supposed to be a winning combination in the NFL, yet somehow Indianapolis finds itself making a surprise playoff push as the calendar turns toward December. And as the stakes increase, the Colts seem immune to late-season pressure.

They just expect to win.

``It's worked this far,'' interim coach Bruce Arians said Monday. ``Just because it's December, the price of poker has gone up but the process is still the same.''

Indy's veterans never bought into the conventional wisdom they had to be patient for this rebuilding project to work. Instead, Pro Bowlers like Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis immediately showed their cards by rejecting any mention of the R-word during the offseason.

The rest of the team went all in with the same message, even if everyone else considered it nothing more than a bluff.

There was good reason for doubts.

At this time last season, the Colts were still winless and positioning themselves to win the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. They finished a dismal 2-14, then blew up one of the NFL's most stable organizations by firing vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian, coach Jim Caldwell, releasing Peyton Manning and cutting ties with a handful of other key veterans.

Twelve months later, with Luck behind center, only four AFC teams have better records than Indy (7-4) and the postseason has become a real possibility.

``All of our dreams are still alive. We write our own destiny and that's the biggest thing,'' defensive end Cory Redding said after Indy's latest victory, 20-13 over Buffalo. ``We don't have to rely on anybody else to get a win or get a loss. Our destiny is in our hands. It's up to us to just continue to do what we're doing, keep playing hard, keep working hard to just continue to stack wins and stay in this hunt.''

The secret to the Colts' success is simple: They are 5-1 at home, 6-1 in one-possession games and have not lost back-to-back games all season.

Luck is still on pace for a historic rookie year and has already matched the rookie win total of Sam Bradford, the No. 1 pick and NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2010.

Wayne is charging toward the best statistical season of his NFL career at the age of 34.

And even the usually-maligned defense has continued to show improvement despite losing both of its starting cornerbacks to injuries during the past month and playing most of this season without Freeney and Mathis on the field at the same time. On Monday, Arians announced the Colts had lost yet another key contributor - defensive tackle Fili Moala, who is expected to go on season-ending injured reserve with a torn ACL.

Since coach Chuck Pagano took an indefinite leave to battle leukemia, the Colts are 6-2 and Arians has moved into a tie for seventh all-time in victories by coaches who have taken over during the season.

Some are already lobbying for Luck to be the rookie of the year, first-year general manager Ryan Grigson to be executive of the year and, yes, Arians as coach of the year.

But none of this has fazed the Colts.

``We understand the position we're in, but again, nothing has been accomplished yet,'' Luck said.

With five games to play, the Colts are in good position, too.

They are currently the AFC's No. 5 seed, one game ahead of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and at least two games ahead of everyone else in the playoff hunt.

Their remaining schedule includes three teams with losing records - Detroit (4-7) on Sunday, home against Tennessee (4-7) the following week and a Dec. 13 date at Kansas City. The other two games are against Houston, including the regular-season finale. By then the Texans may have clinched the conference's top seed and the Colts could have Pagano back on the sideline.

Still, Arians realizes it won't be an easy path.

``We're the type of team, we're going to be in a lot of close games and fortunately we've found a lot of ways to win them,'' he said. ``The big thing for us is to go on the road and protect the football and play good defense and bring those special teams with us on the road and see if we can play our best football on the road.''

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Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

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USA TODAY Sports

Machado homers as Orioles beat Rangers 6-5

For well over six seasons, Manny Machado's value to the Baltimore Orioles has been solely his ability to hit and play the field.

All that has changed, now that the Orioles are looking to receive a huge return for their All-Star shortstop in a blockbuster trade.

Machado homered before being removed on a wet day, Adam Jones hit a three-run double and Baltimore rallied past the Texas Rangers 6-5 Sunday.

Machado was taken out of the game in the fifth inning by manager Buck Showalter after a 26-minute rain delay. The move was designed to get their star player off a sloppy field, because the last-place Orioles are entertaining offers for Machado before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

"Obviously there's a different situation going on with Manny. You all know that," Showalter said. "That had a lot to do with it."

Plain and simple, the Orioles can't afford to have Machado get hurt. Now, more than ever.

"A month ago he wouldn't have come out of the game," Showalter acknowledged. "We know that. You know it."

After being replaced by Jace Peterson, Machado sat in the dugout, wearing a sweatshirt and joking with his teammates.

"I don't know why (Showalter) did it or not," Machado said. "He just told me, `I'm going to take you out. You had a good first half and go represent us well in the All-Star Game.'"

Machado is Baltimore's lone representative for Tuesday's showcase. He has spent his entire career in Baltimore, but his contract expires after this season and the Orioles don't appear interested in locking him up with a long-term deal.

"I'm going to the All-Star Game as an Oriole and as a shortstop. It's just always a blessing," Machado said. "I thank God. I thank my family for always supporting me, my teammates, the fans, the organization. I mean it's just been very incredible."

In a matchup between two teams staggering into the break, Texas got a first-inning grand slam from rookie Ronald Guzman but quickly gave the lead away in losing for the seventh time in nine games.

Machado ignited the comeback with his 24th homer, and Jones' bases-clearing double in the third off Mike Minor (6-6) put Baltimore ahead to stay.

"I'll be fine," said Minor, who yielded five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings. "I'll reflect a little bit and then get back to it."

The game ended when Texas pinch-runner Carlos Tocci was thrown out at the plate on a double by Elvis Andrus. Running from first base, Tocci was tagged out by catcher Caleb Joseph following throws by right fielder Mark Trumbo and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

"Textbook," Showalter said.

Texas manager Jeff Bannister called it a "situation where they had to throw it on line to throw Tocci out. They executed well."

Tanner Scott (1-1), the first of four Baltimore relievers, earned his first big league win.

Zach Britton, another Oriole supposedly on the trading block, worked the ninth for his fourth save, the second in two days.

Texas broke on top when Miguel Castro issued three straight walks and Guzman sent a one-out drive over the right-field wall for his first career grand slam.

It was 4-1 in the third when Joseph hit an RBI double and Jones doubled down the left-field line following a walk to Machado.

Shin-Soo Choo homered in the seventh to get the Rangers to 6-5.

STREAKY

Choo opened the game with a walk, extending to 51 his single-season club record streak of games reaching base via a hit, walk or HBP. ... Texas' Delino DeShields went 0 for 3, stretching his hitless drought to 28 at-bats. ... Jones snapped a 1-for-16 skid with his third-inning double.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Rangers: RF Nomar Mazara was given the day off after hurting his hand Saturday night in the outfield.

Orioles: RHP Chris Tillman (back) was set to make his final rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Norfolk. ... INF Steve Wilkerson (oblique) and OF Craig Gentry (rib fracture) likely won't come off the DL before August, Showalter said. ... RHP Andrew Cashner (neck strain) will be activated from the DL on Saturday or Sunday to face Toronto, Showalter said.

UP NEXT

Rangers: The rotation after the All-Star break, beginning Friday against visiting Cleveland: Martin Perez, Bartolo Colon, Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo and Minor.

Orioles: After the All-Star break, Dylan Bundy will start at Toronto on Friday night.

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

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Murphy's big hit helps Nats beat Mets 6-1

Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner each hit a two-run single in Washington's five-run seventh inning, helping the Nationals beat the New York Mets 6-1 on Sunday.

Matt Adams added two hits and scored a run as Washington salvaged a split of its four-game set against New York. A preseason favorite to win the NL East and contend for a World Series championship, the disappointing Nationals hit the All-Star break with a 48-48 record, good for third in the division.

Jeremy Hellickson (4-1) pitched six crisp innings in his second straight win. The veteran right-hander allowed one run and two hits, struck out six and walked two.

Jose Reyes drove in Michael Conforto with a fielder's choice in the second, tying it at 1, but Washington grabbed control in the seventh.

Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon opened the inning with walks against Anthony Swarzak (0-2). Tim Peterson then came in and surrendered singles to Adams and Murphy, who came off the bench to hit for Michael A. Taylor.

Jerry Blevins replaced Peterson with two out and runners on second and third. But he hit Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton before Turner's single gave Washington a 6-1 lead.

New York wasted a solid start by Corey Oswalt, who allowed two hits in five innings. The Mets got off to a fast start this year, but hit the break last in the division with a 39-55 record, a percentage point behind fourth-place Miami.

WAITING

A steady drizzle delayed the start by 47 minutes.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) pitched 5 2/3 innings in a rehab start for Class A Potomac. He allowed three runs, struck out seven and walked one. Strasburg has been on the disabled list since June 10.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes is scheduled to play five simulated innings in left field at the team's facility in Florida on Monday. Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the 32-year-old outfielder, who has been sidelined by a right hip flexor and strained quadriceps, could return as the designated hitter next weekend against the Yankees If he is able to play on consecutive days.

MAKING MOVES

The Nationals recalled right-hander Trevor Gott from Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Voth, who took the loss in his big league debut Saturday, was sent back to Syracuse.

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