(Reuters) - The Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals became the first Major League Baseball teams to clinch playoff berths on Thursday, while the wild card races at the top of both the National and American Leagues continued to heat up.
The Nationals (91-58) beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1 to secure at least an NL wild card place and bring playoff baseball back to the U.S. capital for the first time since 1933 when the Washington Senators were playing in the World Series.
There has been little reason to celebrate since the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington in 2005 as the Nationals finished last in the NL East five of seven seasons, twice losing more than 100 games.
However, fans were smiling at Nationals Park on Thursday as the franchise secured a postseason slot for the first time since the Expos came within a game of advancing to the 1981 Fall Classic.
Ross Detwiler (10-6) pitched six solid innings, surrendering three hits and one run on a Mark Ellis homer, but got support early as Washington scored twice in both the third and fourth innings.
The loss was a blow to the Dodgers, who fell three games behind St. Louis in the race for the second NL wild card.
The Reds (91-59) were the first team to punch their postseason ticket with a 5-3 win over the Chicago Cubs to complete a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field.
The win guaranteed them at least a wild card spot and maintained an 11-game lead in the NL Central.
Johnny Cueto (18-9) tossed six shutout innings and the Reds did all their scoring in a five-run seventh keyed by a two-run double by Henry Rodriguez.
"A lot of guys had very good games, and they're the reason we're going to leave Chicago with a sweep," said Reds' Joey Votto.
The St Louis Cardinals (80-70) trail the Reds by 11 games in the Central but the World Series champions are still clinging to a wild card spot after a 5-4 win over the Houston Astros.
Allen Craig slammed a three-run homer and Carlos Beltran had a key two-run double as the Cardinals notched their fourth win in a row.
BREWERS STEAL FROM PIRATES
The Milwaukee Brewers scored four runs in the eighth and added another in the ninth to steal a 9-7 win from the Pittsburgh Pirates and close in on a wild card berth.
The Brewers, winners of five in a row and eight of their last nine, have clawed their way back into the playoff chase moving to within 2.5 games of the Cardinals.
The Philadelphia Phillies put up eight runs in the first inning and then rolled to a 16-1 rout of the New York Mets to move within four games of a wild card berth.
In the American League, Seth Smith homered and drove in four runs as the Oakland Athletics avoided a three-game sweep in the Motor City, pounding the Detroit Tigers 12-4 to stay tied top of that wild card race with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Tigers (79-70) fell six games behind the Athletics in the wild card chase but remain just two behind Chicago (81-68) for top spot in the Central after the White Sox lost 4-3 to Kansas City.
Tampa Bay beat Boston 7-4 to stay in the wild card picture 5.5 games back of Oakland and Baltimore.
Nick Swisher had a grand slam as the New York Yankees outgunned the Toronto Blue Jays 10-7 to move one game clear of the idle Orioles atop the AL East.
Japanese ace Yu Darvish improved to 16-9 as the Texas Rangers tightened their grip on first in the AL West with a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels, who slipped 5.5 games out of a wild card spot.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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