Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz reacts after flying out against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston

The State of the Races

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The division races are secondary right now. Let’s go with the wild cards first:

AL Wild Card: Unless you’ve been living under a rock or (worse) watched football all weekend, you know that Boston leads Tampa Bay by a mere two games now after dropping three of four to the Rays.  What you can be somewhat more reasonably excused for not knowing, at least if you’re on the east coast, is that the Angels are only four games back of the Sox themselves.  And then you look at the schedule and you see that, with their margin shrinking, the Red Sox will trot out Kyle Weiland, John Lackey and an arguably healthy Erik Bedard in the next three games and you wonder if this thing isn’t going to be all tied up soon.

NL Wild Card: Atlanta leads St. Louis by 3.5 and — surprise, surprise — the Giants by four.  Big surges by both St. Louis and San Francisco here, along with awfulness by the Braves.  Obviously I have my rooting interest and that won’t flag on a personal level, but let’s be objective about this, shall we?  As things currently stand, wouldn’t the Braves be the worst team to make the playoffs if they hold on? From the perspective of “do you actually want to watch them play baseball games in the playoffs,” wouldn’t you prefer the Giants or the Cardinals?

As for the divisions:

AL East: The Yankees 4.5 lead seems pretty darn safe. Boston’s struggles also mask the fact that the Yankees are playing some pretty uninspired ball themselves.

AL Central: Congratulations on the clinch, Detroit. Now let’s all join forces to fight the “Verlander for the MVP” wave that I feel is building this morning. Or, if we can’t fight it, let us at least remind its backers that Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and the rest of the Tigers team isn’t chopped liver.

AL West: Rangers by 4.5, which means it’s almost over.

NL East: Congratulations on the Phillies clinching. Everyone was so worried about that.

NL Central: Brewers by 6.5. All done but the paperwork.

NL West: Dbacks by 5.  Kudos to them for not crumbling as the Giants surged. It would be the wackiest thing ever if two NL West teams made the postseason dance, wouldn’t it?

Athletics trade Billy Burns to the Royals for Brett Eibner

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 13: Billy Burns #1 of the Oakland Athletics waits on deck to bat during the fourth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 13, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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The Athletics and Royals swapped outfielders on Saturday. The Athletics sent Billy Burns to Kansas City and the Royals sent Brett Eibner to Oakland.

Burns, 26, doesn’t provide much in the way of offense, but he runs the bases well and plays solid defense. He was hitting .234/.270/.303 with 11 doubles, four triples, and 14 stolen bases in 274 plate appearances.

Eibner, 27, was batting .231/.286/.423 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 85 plate appearances. He has spent most of the season with Triple-A Omaha, where he’s put up a .902 OPS in 219 PA. Eibner played the outfield corners in the majors, but racked up a ton of time playing center in the minors, so his versatility will be valuable to the A’s.

Burns will become eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2017 season while Eibner has hardly accrued any service time, which might explain part of the motivation behind the trade for the small-market Athletics.

Nationals acquire closer Mark Melancon from the Pirates

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 20:  Mark Melancon #35 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies on May 20, 2016 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
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The Nationals announced on Saturday afternoon that the club acquired closer Mark Melancon from the Pirates in exchange for reliever Felipe Rivero and minor league pitcher Taylor Hearn.

Melancon, 31, put together another solid season for the Pirates, leaving the club with 30 saves, a 1.51 ERA, and a 38/9 K/BB ratio in 41 2/3 innings. He led the majors last season with 51 saves and has a 1.80 ERA since joining the Pirates in 2013. Melancon is earning $9.65 million this season and can become eligible for free agency after the season.

With Melancon out of the picture, the Pirates intend to have Tony Watson take over the closer’s role.

Rivero, 25, has handled the seventh and eighth innings for the Nationals this season, compiling a 4.53 ERA and a 53/15 K/BB ratio in 49 2/3 innings. He’s just shy of one year of service time, so the Pirates will have control of him for a long time.

Hearn, 21, was rated the Nationals’ 27th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline. He was originally drafted by the Pirates in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft but he didn’t sign and ended up going back to college. The Nationals took him in the fifth round of last year’s draft. This season, between rookie ball and Single-A Hagerstown, Hearn put up a 2.79 ERA and a 39/13 K/BB ratio in 29 innings. He’s a long way away from the majors, so he’s essentially a lottery ticket for the Pirates.

The Nationals needed an upgrade at closer as Jonathan Papelbon has struggled this season. The right-hander has allowed runs in each of his last three appearances, ballooning his ERA up to 4.41 with a 30/13 K/BB ratio in 32 2/3 innings. It will be interesting to see how Papelbon, who has never made a habit of letting his feelings go unspoken, handles a demotion to the eighth inning.