CINCINNATI — Ryan Braun hit his NL-leading 41st home run on Wednesday night, and the Milwaukee Brewers kept their wild-card chances flickering with an 8-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Cincinnati fell a game behind the Nationals for the best record in the majors and the top seed in the NL playoffs. Washington beat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-4 Wednesday.
The Reds conclude the series against Milwaukee on Thursday, then end the regular season with three games in Pittsburgh and three in St. Louis.
Milwaukee trails St. Louis by 3½ games for the final NL wild-card spotr. St. Louis lost 2-0 at Houston Wednesday night.
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Shaun Marcum (6-4) went six innings for his first victory since returning from an elbow problem, allowing only four hits, including Joey Votto's RBI double.
Norichika Aoki homered to start a three-run third inning off Bronson Arroyo (12-9) and added an RBI double. Braun, the NL's Most Valuable Player last season as the Brewers won the NL Central, hit a two-run shot in the seventh off Logan Ondrusek.
Jonathan Lucroy also homered and had three hits.
The Reds played all of their healthy regulars even though they have clinched the NL Central. Bench coach Chris Speier made out the lineup and checked with Manager Dusty Baker, who changed it slightly.
Baker was hospitalized four days in Chicago last week for treatment of an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke. The 63-year-old skipper visited the ballpark in the afternoon. Baker hopes to return to managing in St. Louis next week.
Marcum saved the Brewers' slim hopes by emerging from his rut. The right-hander went on the disabled list in June with tightness in his right elbow. He was 0-1 with a 5.16 ERA in his first six games back, but finally got that elusive win on Wednesday.
Votto's RBI double in the first caromed off the wall in left field, a few feet from the top. It was an encouraging sign for Votto, who hasn't homered in his 18 games back from knee surgery. The first baseman missed 48 games because of torn cartilage and doesn't expect the knee to be back to normal until next season.
Votto, the NL's Most Valuable Player in 2010, is batting .339 with 20 walks and one hit-by-pitch since his return.
The Reds loaded the bases in the fifth on a single and two walks, but Marcum struck out Scott Rolen, ending the Reds' last chance.
Arroyo had been in one of his good stretches, going 5-1 in his last eight starts with a 2.60 ERA. The Brewers put together five consecutive hits with two outs in the third for a 3-1 lead. Aoki hit his 10th homer to start the rally.
Lightning drew oohs from the crowd as a small storm moved just south of the ballpark in the second inning. There was no rain and the game continued without delay.
■ Aoki's homer broke an 0-for-14 slump.
■ Braun moved ahead of Cecil Cooper into fifth place on the franchise homer list with 202. He hit 33 homers last season.
■ Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan was back after missing one game with a bruised shoulder.