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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And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 5, Brewers 3: An absolute dagger of a loss for the Brewers. Chicago took a 2-0 lead early and Milwaukee fought back to take a 3-2 lead in the eighth. In the ninth Ian Happ reached on a grounder on which he should have been out — no error was called, Jeremy Jeffress just couldn’t get to the bag in time — and then Javier Baez tied things up singling Happ in with two outs. In the 10th, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer on a high fastball that probably didn’t do everything Oliver Drake wanted it to do. Wade Davis got the final five outs of the game, in the ninth and tenth, striking out four Brewers. Chicago is now four and a half games ahead of the Brewers in the Central. Milwaukee will have to win the final three games of this series to have any shot at the division. They do remain only one back in the Wild Card, however, because Colorado keeps losing.

Dodgers 5, Phillies 4: Philly took a 4-2 lead thanks to rookie sensations Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins, but old men Curtis Granderson and Andre Ethier — still alive! who knew?! — homered in the six than seventh innings, respectively, to tie it up. The Dodgers’ own rookie sensation Cody Bellinger drove in the eventual winning run with a groundout in the seventh. With that win the Dodgers clinch at least a tie for the NL West title. They can pop champagne corks with either a win tonight or a Dbacks loss. Bad news though: Justin Turner got a bruised thumb when he was hit by a pitch from Mark Leiter Jr. in the first. X-rays were negative and he’s day-to-day, but that kind of thing can linger.

Indians 4, Angels 1: Francisco Lindor hit a three-run homer in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie and the Indians win yet again. That’s 27 of 28 now. They’re only a game behind the Dodgers for the best record in baseball which, as we’ve noted recently, matters now that home field in the World Series is determined by non-stupid means.

Orioles 3, Rays 1: Gabriel Ynoa — who, apropos of nothing, has one of the more satisfying last names to both read and pronounce in all of baseball — tossed eight innings of five-hit, one-run ball. Manny Machado hit a two-run homer and Trey Mancini knocked in a run, both coming in the first innings, for all of Baltimore’s scoring. Tampa Bay threatened in the ninth. It wasn’t anywhere near as good a threat as the one Kim Jong Un issued to Trump yesterday — really, all politics aside, that thing reads fantastically — so the O’s were able to extinguish the fire.

Royals 1, Blue Jays 0: Jason Vargas and four relievers allowed two hits and no runs to beat J.A. Happ and three relievers who allowed eight hits and one run. Melky Cabrera‘s third inning RBI single was the game’s only scoring. Can you imagine what any pitcher from before, say, 1980, must think about a 1-0 game featuring a two-hit shutout that required nine pitchers?

Twins 12, Tigers 1: The Twins had been on a mini-skid before last night, but the Tigers pitching staff will always cure what ails ya. Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each and four different Twins batters knocked in two runs. The Twins now have a two and a half game lead for the second Wild Card with ten days left in the season.

Cardinals 8, Reds 5: Scott Schebler hit two homers for the Reds but it was not enough to overcome the Cards. Dexter Fowler had three hits and drove in two. He was 7-for-13 with two home runs and six RBI in the three-game series, swept by St. Louis. The Cards, who were swept by the Cubs last weekend, are still alive for the Wild Card, though, sitting a game and a half back of Colorado and a half game back of Milwaukee.

Braves 3, Nationals 2: R.A. Dickey allowed two runs over eight innings to pick up his 10th win on the year. After the game he said, “I’d be lying to say I didn’t have some emotions about it. This could be my last start ever at a home venue.” So there’s a decent chance he retires after the season. Part of me hopes he doesn’t — knuckleballers can and should pitch forever and he does have a team option the Braves are likely to pick up for 2018 — but he’s got kids and stuff and it’d be totally understandable if he decided he was done.

White Sox 3, Astros 1: White Sox starter Carson Fulmer lasted one third of an inning before leaving with a blister so seven relievers covered the rest of the game, allowing only one run to the best offense in baseball. Dallas Keuchel walked in one run and allowed another to score on a double play to earn the loss. Tim Anderson hit an insurance home run in the eighth.

Rangers 4, Mariners 2: Cole Hamels allowed only one run over eight innings pitched and was backed by Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo homers and a Carlos Gomez two-run double. The Mariners have been part of the Wild Card conversation for much of the season but now they’re closer to last place in the AL West (4.5 games) than they are to the second Wild Card (5 games).

Padres 3, Rockies 0: Clayton Richard, fresh off of his two-year contract extension, tamed the Rockies, shutting them out for seven and a third, scattering seven hits. Christian Villanueva homered and drove in two. The Rockies have dropped four straight and have the Brewers and Cards breathing down their necks for the second Wild Card.

Padres, Mariners join list of teams to extend netting

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The Reds announced earlier that they plan to extend the protective netting at Great American Ball Park in time for Opening Day next season. You can add the Padres and Mariners to what will surely be a growing list.

A young fan was struck in the face by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, which gave new life to the netting debate. Some fans and media types think Major League Baseball is not doing enough to protect fans. While Major League Baseball has issued guidelines for protective netting, it is ultimately up to the teams to decide just how much netting to use.