Chipper Jones, Shane Victorino

Cardinals can’t capitalize after Braves lose

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Facing opponents simply playing out the string, just one of the top four wild card contenders — the Tampa Bay Rays — could muster a victory on Monday night.  In the NL, the Braves lost 4-2 to Cliff Lee and the Phillies, and the Cardinals followed with a 5-4 loss to the Astros in 10 innings.

The Braves remained one game up with two left to play.

Atlanta’s loss was less surprising, though the Braves did manage to score twice off Lee early.  Chipper Jones homered in the first, and Alex Gonzalez doubled in Matt Diaz in the second.

“Everybody was swinging free and easy. We were ready to play,” Jones said. “After the first two innings, I would’ve given us a 99.9 percent chance to win the game.”

Too bad that proved to be it for the Braves offense. 21-year-old Randall Delgado gave back the lead, surrendering two runs in five innings, and the bullpen stumbled from there.  Raul Ibanez knocked in Shane Victorino in both the sixth and eighth innings with singles.

Philadelphia’s second win in a row after eight losses made the Phillies 100-60 for the season.  It’s the third time in franchise history that it’s reached the century mark. Lee was expected to throw about 70 pitches, but manager Charlie Manuel let him throw 92 and complete six innings for his 17th victory.

St. Louis had a more favorable matchup against the team with the game’s worst record.  However, Jaime Garcia struggled, yielding four runs in four innings.  The Cardinals rallied from 4-2 down in the eighth, with Lance Berkman delivering a game-tying two-run double, but they failed to plate the go-ahead run from second with none out or from third with one out.

After leaving more men on base the next two innings, the Cards lost it in the bottom of the 10th.  Octavio Dotel, who was perfect in the ninth, gave up a leadoff double to Brian Bogusevic and then committed an error on Jason Bourgeois’ sacrifice attempt.  A squeeze bunt followed, with Angel Sanchez driving in the winning run.  Dotel had a chance on that one too, but he failed on an attempt to flip the ball to catcher Yadier Molina with his glove.

Mark Melancon pitched two scoreless innings to earn the win for Houston.  Matt Downs had a two-run homer.

Report: Royals and Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals and the American League rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the National League in the 2nd inning of the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Royals and first baseman Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension. However, Hosmer also indicated that he will head into free agency if a deal is not consummated by Opening Day.

Hosmer, 27, avoided arbitration with the Royals last month, agreeing to a $12.25 million salary for the 2017 season. He is one of four key Royals players who can become a free agent after the season along with Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer does reach free agency, he would arguably be the top free agent first baseman.

Hosmer finished the past season hitting .266/.328/.433 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI while making his first All-Star team.

Yankees sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 17:  Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 17, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Yankees have signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, pending a physical. Assuming the deal is finalized, Sherman notes that the Yankees will have Niese work as both a starter and a reliever in big league camp this spring.

According to Sherman, the Yankees were interested in lefty relievers Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan, but didn’t want to commit at their asking prices. They are looking for a lefty set-up man along with Tommy Lane.

Niese, 30, pitched for the Pirates and Mets last season, finishing with a 5.50 ERA and an 88/47 K/BB ratio over 121 innings.