Carpenter leads surging Cardinals in push for postseason

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              St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Carpenter celebrates after reaching base on a bunt single during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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The St. Louis Cardinals finished July with a 7 ½-game deficit in the NL Central. They were still in the race for a wild card, but after trading outfielder Tommy Pham to Tampa Bay, they didn’t seem like a team that was on the verge of making a serious run at the postseason.

Then the Cardinals began playing some of their best baseball of the year.

St. Louis is 14-4 this month, and even after a loss to Milwaukee on Sunday, the Cardinals are just four games behind the division-leading Cubs. Philadelphia (68-56) and Colorado (68-56) lead the race for the National League wild cards, with Milwaukee (69-57) percentage points behind and St. Louis only a half-game back.

The Cardinals took advantage of a soft spot in their schedule, beating up on the Marlins and Royals earlier this month. But over the past week, they also went 5-2 against the Nationals and Brewers. So far in August, St. Louis leads the NL in batting average, on-base percentage and ERA. Matt Carpenter has hit 14 home runs since the All-Star break and leads the NL with 33.

It’s been just over a month since the Cardinals fired manager Mike Matheny and replaced him on an interim basis with Mike Shildt. St. Louis has plenty of challenges ahead — its next six games are on the road against the Dodgers and Rockies — but the Cardinals have done enough to climb clearly into contention in the wild race for the NL’s postseason spots.

Elsewhere around the majors:

RISING STAR

Ronald Acuna Jr. is showing why he was considered one of the game’s top prospects coming into the season. The 20-year-old Atlanta outfielder is hitting .355 with 12 homers and 24 RBIs since the All-Star break. His 1.191 OPS over that span is the best mark in the National League for anyone with more than 60 at-bats.

Acuna hit leadoff homers in three straight games before Miami’s Jose Urena hit him with his first pitch Wednesday night.

ON A ROLL

Oakland took two of three from Houston and now trails the Astros by only a game atop the AL West. The Athletics were actually tied for first before dropping the series finale Sunday.

On the morning of June 16, the A’s were 34-36 and trailed Houston by 11 ½ games. They were also 11 behind Seattle for the second wild card. Since then, Oakland is 40-14.

DOUBLE TROUBLE

The Pittsburgh Pirates made a splash at the trade deadline when they acquired right-hander Chris Archer from Tampa Bay, but they’re nine games out in the NL Central after splitting four games with the Cubs.

Pittsburgh allowed only four runs in that series but dropped the first two games by identical 1-0 scores. The Pirates hit into seven double plays in Friday’s game.

HIGHLIGHT

The Texas Rangers got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam with a triple play against the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday night. Third baseman Jurickson Profar made a diving stop on David Fletcher’s one-hopper and stepped on third for a force play. He also tagged Taylor Ward, the runner who started the play at third, when Ward left the bag. Then Profar threw to second for another force.

Some of the Angels’ runners may have been confused, since at first it was hard to tell whether Profar had gloved Fletcher’s grounder on a short hop or caught it on the fly. It was the first time since 1912 that a team pulled off a triple play without the batter being one of the outs.

LINE OF THE WEEK

Jose Bautista hit a grand slam and had seven RBIs for the New York Mets as they routed Philadelphia 24-4 in the opener of a doubleheader Thursday. It was quite a turnabout for the Mets, just over two weeks after they were beaten 25-4 by Washington.