NL Wild Card all tied up after Braves lose, Cardinals win

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The Braves led the Wild Card by 10 1/2 games on the morning of August 26, but after a 7-1 loss to the Phillies earlier this evening and the Cardinals’ 13-6 win over the Astros just moments ago, we’ll head into the final day of the season all tied up.

The Braves appeared as lifeless as the sparsely attended crowd at Turner Field tonight. Derek Lowe was touched up for five runs over four innings while the offense could only muster four hits. Their only run scored via a solo home run by Martin Prado in the bottom of the ninth inning. But that’s a minor footnote in their fourth straight loss and their 12th in their last 17 games.

Meanwhile, Roy Oswalt was solid in his playoff tuneup, allowing just three hits over six shutout innings while striking out four and walking one. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Hunter Pence all homered in win No. 101 for the Phillies, which ties a franchise record. It looked like a forgone conclusion prior to their recent eight-game losing streak, but they can still establish a new club record with a win in tomorrow’s season finale.

As for the Cardinals, it appeared as though they were in a lot of trouble after Jake Westbrook gave up five runs over just 2 1/3 innings, but they fought back to tie the game in the top of the fourth inning. The Astros took the lead back when Jimmy Paredes grounded into a double play in the bottom of the fifth, but the Cardinals pulled ahead for good thanks to a four-run top of the seventh, including a go-ahead two-run triple by Ryan Theriot. Allen Craig added a three-run blast in the top of the eighth to officially put the game out of reach. While it was a very different game early on, the Cardinals outscored the Astros 13-1 over the final six innings.

The Braves are scheduled to throw Tim Hudson tomorrow against Joe Blanton in what will likely be a bullpen game for the Phillies. Meanwhile, the Cardinals will send Chris Carpenter to the hill against Astros’ right-hander Brett Myers. If the Braves and Cardinals are still tied at the conclusion of tomorrow’s action, we’ll see a one-game playoff Thursday night in St. Louis.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.