Yankees, Rays now put focus on division

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It was a dramatic night in the MLB playoff races on Tuesday, with the Cincinnati Reds clinching the NL Central for their first postseason trip since 1995, and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays also assuring themselves places in the postseason, eliminating the Boston Red Sox in the process.

The AL teams are locked up, with the Twins and Rangers joining the Yankees and Rays in the field. And with the Reds joining the Phillies in the NL, six of the eight playoff spots are accounted for.

So what’s left? Let’s break it down:

AMERICAN LEAGUE: Who plays who?

Now that they have both secured a playoff berth, the Rays and Yankees can relax, right? Perhaps not. Remember that the team that wins the AL East will receive home-field advantage in the ALDS and likely play the Texas Rangers (87-70) who are on their way to finishing with the worst record among the AL playoff teams.

The team that settles for the wild-card spot will then have to play the Minnesota Twins, who as a division champ will hold the home-field edge even if the wild-card team has a better record. And remember that Minnesota is 52-25 in its first season at Target Field.

So the AL East title should matter to both teams.

“We still have aspirations of winning our division and trying to get homefield advantage,” Joe Girardi told the Associated Press. “I’ve got to pick my spots to rest guys.”

As far as head-to-head records this season, the only team with a distinct advantage over another appears to be the Twins against the Rangers, as Minnesota has beaten Texas seven times in 10 games. Those teams can’t meet until the ALCS, however. Here are the head to head matchups of possible first-round foes:

Yankees 6, Twins 4
Yankees 4, Rangers 4
Rays 5, Twins 3
Rays 4, Rangers 2

NATIONAL LEAGUE: It’s wild in the West

At an NL-best 94-64, the Philadelphia Phillies have guaranteed themselves home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, so look for Charlie Manuel to concentrate on keeping his players sharp while resting his regulars and setting up his rotation for the playoffs. This could bode well for the Atlanta Braves, who finish the season with a series against Philly. Other than that, not much is guaranteed in the National League at this point.

Like the Phillies, the NL Central champion Reds are also in. But aside from that there is much left to be decided, with the Giants and Padres battling for the NL West, and with whoever loses out on that race fighting the Braves for the NL wild card.

If the wild-card team comes from the NL West, they will face the Phillies in the first round. But if the Braves win the wild card, the Phillies will face either the Reds or the NL West champs, whoever has the worst record. Seeing as how the Braves (89-69), Reds (88-69), Giants (89-68) and Padres (87-70) are all within two games of each other, you might want to hold off on reserving any flights for a few more days.

To get a full breakdown on the remaining playoff races, click here.

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The Nationals could pursue Sonny Gray

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Jon Morosi of MLB Network says that the Nationals could pursue Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray if Stephen Strasburg‘s forearm issue lingers. Strasburg left Sunday’s start early due to forearm tightness, saying he was unable to get loose. Sometimes that’s a sign of a major injury. Sometimes it’s just a thing that happens and then goes away.

The Nationals will have to make a determination as to how big a deal this all is pretty soon, though, as a lot of other teams, including the Yankees, Brewers and Astros have all been linked to Gray. It seems inevitable at this point that the A’s will move their ace before Monday’s trade deadline.

Gray is set to start tonight. It may very well be his last in an A’s uniform.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

White Sox 3, Cubs 1: Cubs were hot, White Sox had lost nine straight so of course the Sox beat the Cubs. Baseball is cool on the merits, but one of the best things it has going for it outside of the game action is that it does not lend itself to people spending an hour talking about each game on some studio show beforehand, making predictions about who will do what, the “keys to the game” and all of that. Baseball is wonderfully random. It just . . . happens.

As for what happened here: Adam Engel and Matt Davidson homered and Miguel Gonzalez allowed one run and seven hits in seven and a third.

Astros 13, Phillies 4: Well, some things are predictable, like Jose Altuve getting his hits. He got four on Sunday. He got four last night. He has a 16-game hitting streak now, during which he’s hitting .528 (38 for 72). He’s batting .365/431/.574 on the year. He’s like Wade Boggs with more power and, presumably, a lower tolerance for airplane beers. Altuve drove in three. Alex Bregman homered and doubled twice. Brian McCann went deep. Josh Reddick, Yuli Guriel and Carlos Beltran each drove in two in this rain-interrupted game which gave the Houston batters a number of Phillies relievers to feast upon.

Blue Jays 4, Athletics 2: Francisco Liriano pitched on three days rest to cover for the blister-afflicted Aaron Sanchez. He could do so because his last two outings were short affairs due to, you know, not pitching so good. Here he was fine, giving up two runs over five innings. After he left three Toronto relievers pitched four no-hit innings. Russell Martin homered. Justin Smoak walked with the bases loaded.

Indians 6, Reds 2: Josh Tomlin gave up a couple of solo dingers but that’s all he gave up, allowing two runs on four hits over six. Carlos Santana himself hit a couple of solo homers negating all of that. Bradley Zimmer drove in two with a sac fly and an RBI single. The Indians tie up the 2017 Ohio Series 2-2. As we always note, the loser of the series wins Ohio.

Royals 5, Tigers 3: The Royals jumped out to a 3-0 lead but the Tigers tied it up with RBI singles from Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila in the sixth. The Royals put it away in the 12th inning, however, with homers from Sal Perez and Mike Moustakas. This 12-inning game was shorter than the Tigers’ nine inning game on Sunday.

Orioles 5, Rays 0: Kevin Gausman tossed six shutout innings, striking out eight and the bullpen added three shutout innings to close it out. Adam Jones homered. Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop turned a nifty double play:

Cardinals 8, Rockies 2: Mike Leake shut out the Rockies for seven innings as his mates scored two in the first, fourth, seventh and eighth for a nice, symmetrical bit of run support. Randal Grichuk, Jose Martinez and Tommy Pham homered for the Redbirds.

Marlins 4, Rangers 0: Adam Conely caught the seven shutout inning bug himself — lot of that going around lately — and Giancarlo Stanton homered twice to tie Aaron Judge for the league lead. He’s on pace for 53 dingers.

Diamondbacks 10, Braves 2: R.A. Dickey‘s flutterball didn’t flutter so good and he was touched for four runs on five hits in three and two-thirds. Braves reliever Matt Wisler gave up four runs on five hits in two innings and he doesn’t have a knuckler to blame. A.J. Pollock did a lot of the touching up, driving in four with a homer and an RBI double and single. Zack Greinke allowed two over eight innings in this non-contest.

Mariners 4, Red Sox 0: James Paxton tossed — you’ll never guess — seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out ten. Kyle Seager hit a solo homer. The Red Sox’ bats are snoozing lately. Boston’s lead in the East is down to two games, but they’re tied with the Yankees in the loss column. It must be Dennis Eckersley’s fault.

Dodgers 6, Twins 4: The Dodgers were down by a run in the eighth when Cody Bellinger launched a three-run homer on an 0-2 pinch to put the score in cement. That made a winner out of Dodgers reliever Edward Paredes, making his major league debut at age 30 after ten years toiling in the minors. Bartolo Colon pitched for the Twins. He wasn’t bad for the 2017 version of him, allowing three runs over five innings. No telling if that buys him another start or if he continues to consider retirement.

Mets 5, Padres 3: Jacob deGrom is one of the few things that has gone right for the Mets this year, and it’s gone really right. He wins his eighth straight start, allowing two runs and striking out eight over eight innings. Wilmer Flores homered and Yoenis Cespedes tripled in a run.

Pirates 10, Giants 3: Andrew McCutchen hit a three-run homer and grounded in a run and Jordy Mercer hit his own three-run shot. Gerrit Cole won for the fifth time in six starts. Both sides took issue with home plate umpire Chris Conroy’s strike zone, with Bruce Bochy and acting manager Dave Righetti getting tossed and with Clint Hurdle acknowledging that it was a tough zone. Bochy kind of cut to the heart of the matter, though, when he said, “. . . but that really had nothing to do with what happened tonight. We gave up three-run homers.” Yup.