LEADING OFF: Cubs can clinch, Cards and Giants get wild

A look at what's happening all around the majors today:



Chasing their first World Series championship since 1908, the Chicago Cubs are beginning to clear some hurdles along the way. After clinching a playoff spot Wednesday, the Cubs can wrap up their first NL Central title since 2008 with a win at home over Milwaukee or a St. Louis loss in San Francisco. Chicago has the best record in the majors at 93-52.


All-Star arms are on the mound at AT&T Park for the opener of a critical, four-game series between NL wild-card contenders. Adam Wainwright (11-8, 4.45 ERA) starts for the Cardinals against Johnny Cueto (15-5, 2.90) and the skidding Giants, just swept at home by San Diego. San Francisco leads the wild-card race by a half-game over the Mets, with St. Louis another half-game back.


The path to the playoffs is about to get a lot tougher for the Yankees. New York begins a rugged road trip when Masahiro Tanaka (13-4, 3.04 ERA) starts at Fenway Park against Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez (2-7, 4.70). The Yankees play four games in Boston, three at Tampa Bay and four in Toronto on an 11-game trek that matches their longest in 10 seasons. New York has dropped three of four and is two games behind Toronto for the second AL wild card.


Desperately trying to stay in the wild-card hunt, the Houston Astros are hoping injuries to Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman aren't too serious. A top contender for AL MVP, Altuve left Wednesday night's game against Texas with right oblique discomfort. The star second baseman began the night leading the league in hitting with a .340 average to go with 24 home runs, 94 RBIs, 27 stolen bases and 99 runs. Bregman, a hyped rookie third baseman, left in the sixth with right hamstring discomfort. Both players were to ''have a full evaluation,'' manager A.J. Hinch said.


Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson is waiting for results of an MRI on his sore right hip. Last year's AL MVP has missed three straight games but said he hopes to play in the series opener at the Los Angeles Angels. J.A. Happ (18-4) starts for the slumping Blue Jays, who have lost seven of 10. They are three games behind first-place Boston in the AL East and hold a slim lead for the league's second wild card.


Dodgers lefty Rich Hill (12-3, 1.80 ERA) starts at last-place Arizona as Los Angeles continues its 10-game trip with a five-game lead in the NL West over San Francisco. Hill has won nine straight decisions, and was pulled with a perfect game in progress after seven innings at Miami in his most recent outing because of concerns about a recurring blister.

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