Harper’s slam could be prelude to wild NL playoff race

Sports

Philadelphia Phillies’ Bryce Harper celebrates the team’s win over the Chicago Cubs in a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, in Philadelphia. The Phillies won 7-5 on a grand slam by Harper in the ninth. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Bryce Harper’s game-ending grand slam and sprint around the bases gave a jolt to the Philadelphia Phillies and could be the prelude to a fascinating National League playoff scramble.

As thrilling as the win was for the Phillies , the 7-5 final Thursday night was a kick in the gut for the Chicago Cubs, since both teams are in a tenuous playoff position.

The drama is becoming a daily occurrence for many of the NL hopefuls.

It’s mid-August and the only sure bet to make the postseason is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who continue to barrel through their schedule with an 82-44 record and 18 1/2-game lead over second-place San Francisco.

Atlanta’s still in a good spot at 74-52, but a rash of injuries makes a spot in October feel a little less inevitable. The Braves’ lineup is without Nick Markakis (wrist), Austin Riley (knee), Dansby Swanson (foot) and Ender Inciarte (hamstring) and the revamped bullpen has been a little shaky.

After that, the race is a mess with six weeks remaining.

The Phillies, Nationals, Mets, Cardinals, Brewers and Cubs are all fighting for the final three spots. Even the Giants or Diamondbacks could get into the race with an extended winning streak.

As for the Phillies, they could use more big moments from Harper, who has had an up-and-down season since signing a $330 million, 13-year deal. He’s batting .254 with 26 homers and 90 RBIs.

AWESOME AQUINO

Aristides Aquino is having a stunning start to his big league career.

The 25-year-old Cincinnati Reds right fielder smashed 11 homers through his first 17 games , becoming the first rookie to accomplish that feat since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. By Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals were treating him very cautiously, walking him twice in four plate appearances.

Aquino’s power isn’t completely surprising considering he hit 28 homers in 294 at-bats in Triple A this season. Still, he has taken a while to develop into a big leaguer: He has spent nine seasons in the Reds’ system since signing as a free agent in 2011.

LOOK WHO’S 40

Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger and Pete Alonso reached or passed 40 homers this week, becoming the first four players of the season to do so. Since most teams have around 35 games remaining, it’s easy to see at least a few of them reaching 50.

Big league hitters continue to thrive on the long ball at a pace never seen in the sport’s history. Teams were averaging 1.40 homers per game through Saturday, which would shatter the previous record of 1.26 set two years ago.

U MAD?

The New York Yankees continue to take out their aggression on just about everyone from opposing teams to the umpires.

In what’s becoming a somewhat common occurrence, three Yankees were ejected during Saturday’s 6-5 win against Cleveland , including manager Aaron Boone, outfielder Brett Gardner and pitcher CC Sabathia. It was the third time in a month that the club lost its temper when a minor league call-up umpire was behind the plate.

The ejections and anger haven’t kept the Yankees from winning. Their 83-43 record leads the majors and they’ve won seven of their last 10.

HOW LOW CAN YOU GO

In another lowlight in a season full of them, the Orioles lost their seventh straight game Sunday despite building a 6-0 lead in the first three innings. Boston scored the next 13 runs.

Baltimore is now 39-85 and in danger of losing 110 games for the second straight season. At least the Orioles probably will be better than last season, when they finished 47-115.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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