LEADING OFF: Braves set to clinch, Cubs try to regroup

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Ronald Aunca Jr

Atlanta Braves center fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (13) follows through on a solo home run in the third inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Atlanta. The homer was Acuna’s 40th of the season. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

A look at what’s happening around the majors today:

POPPIN’

Ronald Acuña Jr. and the Braves are poised to break out the bubbly, with a magic number of one to clinch their second straight NL East title. They can celebrate when Mike Foltynewicz (7-5, 4.80 ERA) starts at SunTrust Park against San Francisco. A win by Atlanta or a loss by second-place Washington at Miami will seal it.

At 21, Acuña will be able to take part in a champagne toast. The star outfielder with 40 home runs wasn’t yet of legal age when the Braves won the division a year ago.

“They wouldn’t let me drink because I was a minor,” Acuña recalled, breaking into a big smile. “This year, it’s going to be different. I’m looking forward to it.”

CHICAGO BLUES

The Cubs have fallen to third place in the NL Central for the first time since April, but they can fix that as they continue a four-game set against first-place St. Louis. The Cardinals regrouped after blowing a late lead in the opener, winning on Matt Carpenter’s 10th-inning homer against Craig Kimbrel in the All-Star closer’s return from injury. Chicago trails St. Louis by four games in the NL Central and is a game behind Milwaukee for the second NL wild card. It’s the first time since July 3 that Chicago doesn’t hold at least a share of a postseason spot.

St. Louis will send out right-hander Michael Wacha (6-7, 4.76) in the series’ second game. Chicago switched its plans Thursday and will now throw righty Alec Mills (1-0, 3.42). Left-hander Jose Quintana was bumped a day and will start Saturday in place of left-hander Cole Hamels, who is dealing with left shoulder fatigue. Hamels hopes to rejoin the rotation next week.

GOING, GOING …

A year after setting a team record with 108 wins on their way to the World Series championship, Mookie Betts and the Red Sox are on the brink of being eliminated from playoff contention.

Boston (80-72) will be bounced with one loss in this weekend’s series against Tampa Bay. Rick Porcello starts the opener for Red Sox vs. Charlie Morton at Tropicana Field.

The Rays are in a three-team race with Oakland and Cleveland for the two AL wild-card spots.

CHECK HIM

The Brewers will see how Lorenzo Cain is feeling, a day after he hit a home run and then exited with a sore left ankle. Milwaukee moved within one game of Washington for the top NL wild-card spot with a 5-1 win over San Diego.

The 33-year-old outfielder has dealt with his share of aches and pains this season. He’s also had a sore thumb and has been playing despite lingering knee pain.

Milwaukee opens a weekend series against Pittsburgh at Miller Park.

BACK IN THE SWING

José Ramírez is making progress in his return from a broken right hand with an eye on rejoining the Indians lineup before the end of the regular season. Ramírez took batting practice Thursday for the first time since having surgery for a broken hamate bone Aug. 26, and the switch-hitter felt good after swinging from both sides of the plate. His initial recovery window had him slated for game action in early October, but he’s pushing to see if he can help Cleveland in its pursuit of a postseason spot before the regular season finale Sept. 29.

Ramírez is batting .254 with 20 home runs and 75 RBIs despite a sluggish start — he hit .325 with 15 homers and a 1.045 OPS in the 53 games before the surgery.

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