The Week Ahead: It's clinching time

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rivera_yanks_090927.jpgThe New York Yankees are in. The St. Louis Cardinals, too. The Los Angeles Dodgers are assured at least the NL wild-card slot, and will soon be celebrating a division title. And these traditional powers are about to have a lot more company very soon.

What’s left in baseball’s playoff races? Not a whole lot, really.

[Breakdown of playoff races  |  Standings] 

The Texas Rangers, hanging on by a thread in both the AL West and wild-card races, essentially have to run the table this week and receive a ton of help to even have a chance. They open the week with a four-game series against the Angels, and any loss in that series will end their division hopes.

In the wild-card race, the Boston Red Sox can clinch by going just 2-5 this week – even if the Rangers win out.

In the NL, the Phillies can clinch the NL East with a 3-4 week – even if the Braves run the table — and the aforementioned Dodgers can clinch the West with a mere two wins this week – no matter what the second-place Colorado Rockies do.

That leaves only two races with any sort of drama left, the NL wild card and the AL Central. In the NL, the Atlanta Braves have ridden a 5-game winning to move within 2 ½ games of the leading Rockies. And there is reason for hope in Atlanta. If the Braves can get past the Marlins in the early part of the week, they finish with four games at home against the Washington Nationals, whom they just swept by a combined score of 21-9.

Colorado has a much tougher road, with three games at home against Milwaukee before heading to Los Angeles for three games against the Dodgers. L.A. is 12-3 against Colorado this season.

In the AL Central, the Tigers are trying to fend off the Twins, who are hanging two games back as the teams enter a four-game series on Monday in Detroit. A split would put Detroit in good shape, as the Twins would then almost certainly need a weekend sweep against Kansas City – and they’ll face leading AL Cy Young contender Zack Greinke on Saturday.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Marlins at Braves, Sept. 28-30: The Marlins are pretty much cooked, but they Braves still have an outside chance of catching the Rockies for the NL wild card spot. Florida wouldn’t mind playing spoiler

Rangers at Angels, Sept. 28-Oct. 1: The Rangers haven’t been eliminated yet from either the AL West or wild card races. That being said, anything less than a four-game sweep of the Angels spells doom. The drama here could end real quickly.

Twins at Tigers, Sept. 28-Oct. 1: This is pretty much it for the Twins, who trail Detroit by two games heading into this four-game series. If Minnesota doesn’t win at least three, you can pretty much give Detroit the division.

Royals at Twins, Oct. 2-4: As we said above, Greinke and the Royals get a chance to play spoiler here. And Greinke has something to play for, too, as he aims to grab as many wins as he can to impress Cy Young award voters.

Rockies at Dodgers, Oct. 2-4: The Atlanta Braves must look at this series and think “Ahah. We have hope.” While Atlanta will be playing the lowly Washington Nationals, Colorado draws Los Angeles. Colorado is 3-12 against the Dodgers this season. The Braves must just make sure they are close enough heading into the weekend.

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

MLB may introduce “tacky” baseballs in 2018

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 25: Baseballs sit in the St. Louis Cardinals dugout prior to a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by David Welker/Getty Images)
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Jeff Passan of Yahoo has an interesting report today. MLB and Rawlings are developing a new baseball. It will have a tacky surface on the leather, allowing pitchers to get a better grip without having to resort to sunscreen and rosin and pine tar and stuff. Substances which, in theory, are for grip but which are really used by pitchers to doctor the ball, with MLB and opposing hitters mostly looking the other way.

They tested the new balls in the Arizona Fall League last year and Passan talks to a couple of the pitchers who used the ball. More testing would be required, though, so we’re not likely to see the new balls until at least 2018.

As you know, baseball players love change, so I’m sure we won’t hear another thing about the ball and its introduction will go off seamlessly.

Wait. It’ll still have seams. You know what I mean.

Here we go: Tim Tebow reports to Mets camp

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - SEPTEMBER 20: Tim Tebow #15 of the New York Mets speaks at a press conference after a work out at an instructional league day at Tradition Field on September 20, 2016 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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The first few days of spring training have been pretty quiet. Guys are going about their business and games are being played, but we haven’t had any news or controversy or silliness or anything fun like that. That’s about to change, however, as Tim Tebow has arrived at Mets camp.

Tebow, a non-roster invite, arrived at the Mets facility in Port St. Lucie, Florida this morning and, unlike every other non-roster invite, had a press conference. You may be surprised to learn that he’s in great shape, is excited to get going and wants to improve steadily each day.

The plan for Tebow is to be a part of the minor league camp, not the major league one, so he’s not going to be as visible at workouts as you might expect. He will be playing in some major league spring training games, however, at least until we get deeper into spring training, after which you’d assume that veterans and players with a real shot of making the big club will play longer.

In the meantime, you can buy Tebow shirts. But not Curtis Granderson ones, it seems: