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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Check out Minute Maid Park without Tal’s Hill

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During the offseason, the Astros finally got rid of Tal’s Hill in center field. It was a throwback to older stadiums, some of which had uneven topography — Crosley Field, namely. As unique as it was in the age of cookie cutter sports stadiums, most of us were holding our collective breaths hoping no one ruptured an Achilles or suffered another brutal injury trying to navigate the hill while attempting to catch a fly ball.

We saw what it looked like during reconstruction:

And now, via Julia Morales of ROOT Sports, we see what it looks like after all the work has been done:

The Astros are allowing fans with Lexus Field Club tickets to stand on the new warning track to watch batting practice and shag fly balls as well, Morales notes. Lexus Field Club is where Tal’s Hill used to be.

Good riddance, Tal’s Hill.

Jhoulys Chacin will start Opening Day for the Padres

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Jhoulys Chacin will start on Opening Day, April 3 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. It will be Chacin’s second Opening Day start, the other coming in 2013 with the Rockies against the Brewers. He’ll be the fifth different Padres pitcher in as many years to start on Opening Day.

Chacin, 29, inked a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Padres in December. The right-hander spent the 2016 season with the Braves and Angels, compiling an aggregate 4.81 ERA with a 119/55 K/BB ratio in 144 innings.

Lin notes that Chacin will be followed in the rotation by Clayton Richard and Jered Weaver. It will be an interesting rotation, to say the least, as it will arguably be the worst in baseball.