Astros, Mets add to leads; Bucs miss chance

Astros, Mets add to leads; Bucs miss chance

The Astros were not among the 12 teams in action on Thursday, but they still saw their lead in the American League West grow over the second-place Rangers in advance of an important series against the third-place Angels.

Here's a look at some key developments from Thursday that helped shape the playoff picture:

Astros pad division lead
With the Rangers losing to a dominant Felix Hernandez and the Mariners, 5-0, the Astros assumed a 2 1/2 game lead in the AL West. The Astros will visit the Rangers next week for a four-game set, but first they must get through a critical three-game series against the Angels this weekend at Angel Stadium.

The Astros, who lead the Angels by 5 1/2 games, are entering an important stretch. Thirteen of the Astros' next 16 games are against the two teams chasing them for the division crown.

"We have a complete understanding of how critical these games are, really, for the next three weeks," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I think that everyone circled these series as the most important series, and the reality is this time of year, the most important game of the year is the one you're playing. We relish the opportunity to be in the middle of this, and when you set out to start the year, you certainly want to play this pressurized baseball in September."

The Angels, meanwhile, will have an opportunity to make up some ground of their own during this series. They are just three games back in the AL Wild Card race, have won 12 of their last 17 against the Astros in Anaheim and tonight's starter, Jered Weaver, has held the Astros to just two earned runs in 15 innings this season.

Mets keep rolling
The Mets beat the Braves, 7-2, to win their fourth straight game and push their lead in the National League East to 7 1/2 games over the second-place Nationals.

Thursday's victory lowered the Mets' magic number to win the division to 16 and eliminated the Braves from postseason contention.

The Mets are now 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers, who lead the NL West. With the Cardinals (88-52) holding on to the top record in the Senior Circuit, the Mets and Dodgers are jockying for postseason seeding. If the Mets can surpass the Dodgers in the standings, they would host a potential Division Series between the two clubs.

Colon's RBI single

Pirates miss chance to gain ground
The Pirates welcomed A.J. Burnett back to the rotation, but they came up short against the Brewers after rallying twice and lost, 6-4, in 13 innings to remain 4 1/2 games behind the NL Central-leading Cardinals, who were blanked by the Reds, 11-0.

The postseason remains very much in play for the Pirates, as they lead the Cubs by 2 1/2 games for the top Wild Card spot.

Other things to know

  • The Yankees and Blue Jays were rained out at Yankee Stadium, pushing back a critical series in the AL East race. The Blue Jays lead the second-place Yankees by 1 1/2 games. The division rivals will face off Friday, have a doubleheader Saturday and meet again Sunday in the series finale.
  • The Cubs were also rained out against the Phillies. Chicago has a nine-game lead over the Giants for the second NL Wild Card.
  • Cleveland's Wild Card push includes wins in 14 of its last 20 games. The Indians, currently four games back in the Wild Card race, are trying to return to the postseason for the first time since 2013, when they won 21 of their last 27 games to claim a Wild Card spot in manager Terry Francona's first year at the helm.
  • The Indians keep hanging around in the race for the second AL Wild Card and now trail the Rangers by four games after beating the Tigers, 7-5.
Brantley's go-ahead second homer

If the postseason began today:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Wild Card: Rangers at Yankees
Division Series: Wild Card at Royals, Astros at Blue Jays

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Wild Card: Cubs at Pirates
Division Series: Wild Card at Cardinals, Mets at Dodgers

2015 POSTSEASON SCHEDULE
AL Wild Card Game: Oct. 6
NL Wild Card Game: Oct. 7
AL Division Series begin: Oct. 8
NL Division Series begin: Oct. 9
NL Championship Series begins: Oct. 16
AL Championship Series begins: Oct. 17
World Series begins: Oct. 27

Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.