LEADING OFF: Braves & Astros can clinch, MadBum in SanFran

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Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley (27) gestures towards the Braves' dugout after hitting a two-run double in the seventh inning of a baseball game Philadelphia Phillies Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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Atlanta can clinch its fourth consecutive NL East title with a win at home over Philadelphia, which would complete a three-game sweep of their high-stakes series.

Ian Anderson (8-5, 3.60 ERA) pitches for the Braves — the right-hander has no decisions and a 3.09 ERA in four starts against Philadelphia this year. Kyle Gibson (10-8, 3.60) goes for the Phillies, who get eliminated from playoff contention with one more loss or any Atlanta win the rest of the season.

Philadelphia’s biggest bats have gone silent at the worst possible time.

Bryce Harper, a top contender for NL MVP, and cleanup hitter J.T. Realmuto are a combined 0 for 15 in the series. Harper, who had reached base in 23 straight games before Wednesday, is 0 for 7 with five strikeouts.


Houston looks to wrap up its fourth AL West crown in five years with a victory at home against Tampa Bay.

Lance McCullers Jr. (12-5, 3.17 ERA) starts the series finale for the Astros, who have lost five of their last six games.

“The key is you’re still on the cusp,” manager Dusty Baker said. “There’s a whole bunch of people who ain’t on the cusp. You’ve got to play the game. Nobody is going to give it to you.”

The AL East champion Rays will go with an opener or Ryan Yarbrough (9-6, 5.09).


Madison Bumgarner will finally get his moment to be celebrated by the San Francisco fans.

The big Arizona lefty (7-10, 4.58 ERA) pitches against his old Giants club with a crowd this time — unlike his first outing back at Oracle Park last September played in front of cardboard cutouts. The Diamondbacks played in San Francisco earlier this season and he came out of the dugout to wave at the crowd, but didn’t pitch.

“He’s done some unbelievable things here,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “When the worlds collide in a special way to where it works out so he can pitch back in this ballpark again, we’re all going to enjoy it for a couple minutes. But I’m sure the competitive part of Bum is going to take over after the first pitch or two or after the first moment or two and it’s going to be just another big baseball game to him.”

Bumgarner signed an $85 million, five-year contract with Arizona in December 2019 after 11 seasons with the Giants. He was the 2014 World Series MVP as San Francisco won the championship and also helped the team take titles in 2010 and ’12.

Lovullo didn’t specifically line up Bumgarner to pitch this week back in the Bay Area, but is happy it worked out that way.

“I’m a baseball fan, too. I watch these types of thing all the time,” Lovullo said. “They’re feel-good moments. I know this town means a lot to Bum as well. It’ll be nice to say that he’s done it and he’s gotten it out of the way.”


Rays rookie Wander Franco has safely reached base in 43 straight games, tying Frank Robinson (1956 with Cincinnati) for the longest string by a major leaguer 20 or younger.

Franco matched the mark with three hits Wednesday night as Tampa Bay beat Houston 7-0 to clinch home-field advantage through the AL Championship Series. The 20-year-old switch-hitter can best that mark when the visiting Rays face the Astros again.

The big league record for consecutive games reaching base is still a long way off — Ted Williams set the mark of a whopping 84 straight in 1949.


This was not the kind of punchout Milwaukee reliever Devin Williams wanted: The valuable setup man could miss the entire postseason after breaking his pitching hand when he punched a wall.

Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said the right-hander likely will require surgery. He said there’s an “outside chance” the 2020 NL Rookie of the Year could be available for the World Series if the Brewers get that far.

The main setup man for All-Star closer Josh Hader, the 27-year-old Williams is 8-2 with a 2.50 ERA in 58 games this season. He has struck out 87 in 54 innings and opponents are batting .186 against him.

Williams hurt himself on the day the Brewers clinched the NL Central crown.

“After our celebration, I went out to have a few drinks,” Williams said Wednesday. “On my way home, I was a little frustrated and upset, and I punched a wall. That’s how it happened.”

Williams apologized to the Brewers and their fans for the circumstances that led to his injury.

“I’m pretty upset with myself,” he said. “There’s no one to blame but me. I feel like I’ve let my team down — our coaching staff, our fans, everyone. I know how big of a role that I play on this team. There’s a lot of people counting on me. I guess all I can do now is cheer my team on and learn from it and don’t make that same mistake in the future.”


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