What we learned Thursday: Cubs loom large in National League playoff races

2:49 AM ET

The Chicago Cubs are kingmakers, sitting back on their cushy lead and influencing the rest of the National League playoff picture. They are in a stretch of games that could go a long way to determining their first-round playoff opponent. They rallied to defeat the San Francisco Giants 5-4 Thursday night.

1. Addison Russell is making some huge contributions lately: The Giants seemed to have this one in hand until, with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning, Russell swung at Cory Gearrin’s 92 mph sinker and, while breaking his bat, plopped it into left field to drive in two runs.

Russell, who made a brilliant, clutch catch in the Pirates series, is coming into his own as a run-producing shortstop. He has 88 runs driven in. The only other Cubs shortstops to provide that kind of run production were Ernie Banks and Roy Smalley.

Not long ago, here’s how Cubs manager Joe Maddon described Russell as a hitter: “He’s strong from the fingertips to the elbows, and that’s what you’re looking for from a really good hitter. It makes a different sound when he hits it. He’s one of those guys.”

The win kept the Cubs rolling merrily along with their silly 15 ½-game lead in the NL Central. It did some damage to the Giants, who now trail the Dodgers by two games in the NL West and are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals for home field in the wild-card game. Giants manager Bruce Bochy usually doesn’t lose bullpen games. In describing the Giants’ disappointment, broadcaster Duane Kuiper said, “Those are usually their games.”

The Giants are 15-28 since the All-Star break.

2. The Miami Marlins make a stand: It was beginning to look like the fade many people expected from this team months ago, and it still may be. But the Marlins won a game they had to win Thursday, holding on to beat the Mets 6-4 to avoid a four-game sweep. They had lost five straight games to sink behind two other teams in the wild-card race. They went 10-18 in August, prompting manager Don Mattingly to say, in his typically blunt, Midwestern way, “We weren’t very good this month.”

But fortunes turn fast this time of year — just ask the Mets — and the Marlins are only three games out for the second wild-card spot, far from buried. Maybe they can turn the tide.

Christian Yelich might be the one healthy Marlins player talented enough to carry them to the postseason. He made a great catch and has gone 6-for-11 with three home runs in his past three games. He hit the key three-run homer that kept the Mets at bay.

3. The Mets just keep getting bad news: They managed to win a series against the Cardinals to stay alive and then had a strong series against the Marlins, but fatigue and injuries look as if they might just drag this team out of contention.

Jacob deGrom motioned for a Mets trainer at the end of his five-inning outing Thursday, one in which his fastball was well off its normal zip, down to 91 mph at times from its usual mid-90s range.

So, is he hurt? After the game, he gave reporters suspiciously curt answers when asked about his health.

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” he said.

That prompted a good follow-up question from ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin: “When you say, ‘Didn’t feel great,’ you mean what by that, then?”

Said deGrom: “Just kind of out of sync out there, and I waved them in to talk to them, but there’s nothing wrong.”

Losing deGrom would be a punishing blow, particularly since second baseman Neil Walker just announced he was having season-ending back surgery earlier in the day. Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon are the only healthy Mets starters if deGrom misses time.

The Mets now trail the Cardinals by two games for the second wild card.

Atlanta Braves are still awful, but they can finally score runs from time to time: In fact, with Thursday’s 9-6 win over the Padres, the Braves have scored at least seven runs in five straight home games. Freddie Freeman has gotten on base in 24 straight games.

It’s a bit misleading since those five games are spread out over a two-week period, but still, it’s the Braves. They remain 32 games under .500. You have to scratch and dig to find something good to say. The last time the Braves pulled off something like this, Dwight Eisenhower worked in the Oval Office.

5. The world is not about to end, Padres fans: At least we hope not. Getting swept at Turner Field isn’t just embarrassing, it’s entirely novel. The Braves hadn’t done it all year until they completed the sweep of San Diego on Thursday.

It’s not ideal if you root for the Padres now, but if the season ended today, San Diego would have the third overall pick in next June’s draft. So, repeat after me, Padres fans, “Tank you very much.”

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