Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees

Wednesday’s Wild Card matchup preview

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161 games down. One to go. And we have ties for the Wild Card in both the American League and National League. Is this fun or what? OK, well for most of us, anyway.

Here’s what to look for in Wednesday’s matchups:

American League Wild Card

Boston – Jon Lester (15-9, 3.49 ERA)
Baltimore – Alfredo Simon (4-9, 4.85 ERA)

New York – TBA
Tampa Bay – David Price (12-13, 3.35 ERA)

The Red Sox (90-71) and Rays (90-71) remain tied for the AL Wild Card after both teams won Tuesday night.

Jon Lester will be starting on three days’ rest Wednesday for the third time in his career. He threw just 55 pitches in his last outing Saturday against the Yankees, when he was chased for a season-high eight runs over 2 2/3 innings. The southpaw has allowed four runs or more in each of his last three starts. Simon is coming off a solid start against the Tigers last week, allowing three runs over eight innings, but has a 6.52 ERA in five starts this month. He gave up three runs on eight hits and three walks over 4 2/3 innings in his only appearance against the Red Sox this season back on July 9.

The Rays are in pretty good shape Wednesday, even though it isn’t confirmed who they’ll be facing. Either way, the Yankees are expected to rely heavily on their bullpen, primarily with pitchers who will not be on the postseason roster. However, Yankees manager Joe Girardi is expected to have most of his regulars in the starting lineup, at least for a couple of innings. David Price is winless over his last five starts, but has a 3.03 ERA this month and a 2.86 ERA since the All-Star break. He is 1-1 with a 4.26 ERA and a 17/8 K/BB ratio in four starts against the Bombers this season.

If the Red Sox and Rays remain tied following Wednesday’s action, they will meet a one-game playoff Thursday at 4:07 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field. Nothing official yet, but the Rays would likely use Jeff Niemann or possibly Matt Moore while the Red Sox could go with either John Lackey or Tim Wakefield.

National League Wild Card

Philadelphia – Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.03 ERA)
Atlanta – Tim Hudson (16-10, 3.23 ERA)

St. Louis – Chris Carpenter (10-9, 3.59 ERA)
Houston –  Brett Myers (7-13, 4.31 ERA)

The Braves (89-72) and Cardinals (89-72) are now in a flat-footed tie for the Wild Card after Atlanta lost Tuesday night and St. Louis beat up on the Astros.

After starting the final game of the regular season to help secure the Wild Card last year, Tim Hudson will attempt to do it again Wednesday. He allowed three runs over 5 2/3 innings in his last start Friday against the Nationals before leaving due to a cramp near his neck. The veteran right-hander is 1-1 with a 3.48 ERA in three starts against the Phillies this season. Joe Blanton, who is currently auditioning for a spot in the bullpen for the postseason, is making his first start since May 14. However, he is only expected to go a couple of innings. While this sounds like advantage Braves, Cole Hamels and Vance Worley could also see some work Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals will turn to their de facto ace Chris Carpenter with the season on the line. The veteran right-hander has been excellent recently, posting a 1.45 ERA and 21/6 K/BB ratio over his last four starts. He took a no-decision in his lone start against the Astros this season back on July 27, allowing two runs over seven innings. Brett Myers has been equally brilliant lately, allowing exactly one earned run in each of his last five starts dating back to late-August. He has a 5.14 ERA in two starts against the Cardinals this season. One significant development to watch is that Matt Holliday won’t start after aggravating an injury to his right hand, though his replacement Allen Craig did homer and drive in four runs in Tuesday’s victory.

If the Braves and Cardinals remain tied following Wednesday’s action, they will meet in a one-game playoff Thursday at 8:07 p.m. ET at Busch Stadium. The Braves would use Brandon Beachy while the Cardinals would counter with Kyle Lohse.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.