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Yankees staying hot on Blue Jays' heels

A full slate of baseball kicked off Labor Day weekend on Friday, with postseason implications on the line in a number of important series. Three division leaders each saw their lead shrink by one game as playoff races tightened across the Majors.

Here's a look at some key developments that helped shape the playoff picture:

Yankees close gap with Blue Jays
The Yankees beat the Rays, 5-2, behind homers from Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann and Greg Bird, and 6 1/3 strong innings from Luis Severino. New York reduced its deficit in the American League East to a half-game behind Toronto, which lost to Baltimore, 10-2.

Video: [email protected]: A-Rod opens scoring with two-run shot

In the middle of playing 16 straight games against division opponents, the Yankees have won three in a row against the Red Sox and Rays. The Blue Jays visit Yankee Stadium next weekend for a pivotal three-game series.

While locked in a battle for the division crown, the Yankees also hold a five-game lead over the Rangers for the AL's top Wild Card spot.

Astros add Springer for stretch run
The Astros got outfielder George Springer back from the disabled list and blanked the Twins, 8-0, to increase their lead over the Rangers in the AL West to three games.

Springer made an immediate impact in his return, leading off the bottom of the first inning with a single and later scoring the game's first run.

Video: [email protected]: Springer singles in return from DL

"Just to get told I can go out there again and play is exciting," said Springer, who missed more than two months with a fractured right wrist. "It's a big stretch for us, and I'm ready to do whatever I can to help."

Nationals walk off in extra innings
Pinch-hitter Michael Taylor delivered a three-run homer in the 10th to lift the Nationals to a 5-2 comeback win over the Braves, pulling them to within five games of the first-place Mets in the National League East.

Video: [email protected]: Taylor belts a walk-off homer in the 10th

The Nats rallied with two outs in the ninth, with Matt den Dekker lacing an RBI single up the middle to tie the score at 2. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman led off the 10th with consecutive singles before Taylor went deep to extend the Nationals' winning streak to three games.

"I think [if] we keep playing this way, good things will happen for us the rest of the way," Taylor said.

The Nats have a favorable schedule down the stretch, with 22 of their final 28 games against teams with a losing record. The other six are against the Mets, who lost to the Marlins, 6-5, in 11 innings on Friday. Washington is 45-36 against teams with a sub-.500 record and 6-7 vs. New York.

Other things to know
• The Pirates opened an important three-game series against the Cardinals with a 9-3 victory to snap a four-game losing skid. In the process, they narrowed their deficit in the NL Central to 5 1/2 games behind St. Louis.

A postseason appearance is very much a possibility for the Pirates, who hold a four-game lead over the Cubs for the NL's top Wild Card spot.

• The Cubs bashed four homers to rout the D-backs, 14-5, and keep their lead for the second NL Wild Card spot at 7 1/2 games over the Nationals, who moved a half-game in front of a Giants club that has lost seven straight.

• The Angels beat the Rangers, 5-2, to move within 2 1/2 games of Texas for the second AL Wild Card. The Rangers are holding off the Twins for the final AL postseason spot, leading Minnesota by 1 1/2 games.

• The Dodgers belted five homers to top the Padres, 8-4, and push their lead over the Giants in the NL West to 7 1/2 games.

If the postseason began today ...

Wild Card: Rangers at Yankees
Division Series: Wild Card at Royals, Astros at Blue Jays

Wild Card: Cubs at Pirates
Division Series: Wild Card at Cardinals, Mets at Dodgers

AL Wild Card Game: Oct. 6
NL Wild Card Game: Oct. 7
AL Division Series begin: Oct. 8
NL Division Series begin: Oct. 9
NL Championship Series begin: Oct. 16
AL Championship Series begin: Oct. 17
World Series begins: Oct. 27

Austin Laymance is a reporter for