As it turned out, the Orioles didn’t need to wait until the weekend series against the Yankees for their chance to top the AL East standings.
Baltimore smoked Toronto 12-0 and the Yankees lost to the Rays 5-2 on Tuesday, setting up a tie for first place in the AL East. The Rays closed to within 1 1/2 games by beating the Bombers for the second straight day.
The Orioles’ win came first. Zach Britton, recalled from the minors earlier in the day, pitched seven scoreless innings, and Baltimore pitching shut out Toronto for the second straight day. Mark Reynolds, who had a pair of two-homer games in the Bronx over the weekend, went 3-for-4 with a three-run homer and four RBI in this one. Nick Markakis, Chris Davis and Manny Machado also collected three hits apiece.
Tampa Bay’s win was closer, but the Yankees never did score again after Robinson Cano’s two-run homer off Alex Cobb in the first. As for the Rays, they had just five hits, but three of them were homers from Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton, the latter two coming consecutively in the fifth inning. Upton also had an RBI double in the contest.
The Yankees had been alone in first place for 84 straight days, a streak that is now over. They led the Rays by 10 1/2 games as recently as July 18, but Tampa Bay has made up nine games in a month and a half. If it’s not yet panic time in the Bronx, it’s getting pretty close. They’re not going to want their postseason to come down to a one-game, winner-take-all series with Hiroki Kuroda matching up against David Price.
A report from the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly suggests that free agent catcher Welington Castillo currently tops the Orioles’ list of potential backstop targets for the 2017 season. With Matt Wieters on the market, the Orioles lack a suitable platoon partner for Caleb Joseph behind the dish, and Connolly adds that the club has been discussing a multi-year deal with Castillo’s representatives since the Winter Meetings.
Castillo batted .264/.322/.423 with the Diamondbacks in 2016, racking up 14 home runs and driving in a career-high 68 RBI in 457 PA. His bat provides much of his upside, and Connolly quoted an anonymous National League scout who believes that the 29-year-old’s defensive profile has fallen short of his potential in recent years.
For better or worse, both the Orioles and Castillo appear far from locking in a deal for 2017. Both the Rays and Braves have expressed interest in the veteran catcher during the past week, while the Orioles are reportedly considering Wieters, Nick Hundley and Chris Iannetta as alternatives behind the plate.
The Phillies reportedly signed veteran outfielder Daniel Nava to a minor league contract, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Nava began the season on a one-year contract with the Angels, during which he slashed .235/.309/.303 through 136 PA in the first half of 2016. He was flipped to the Royals in late August for a player to be named later and saw the remainder of his year go down the drain on an .091 average through 12 PA in Anaheim. After getting the boot from the Angels’ 40-man roster in November, the 33-year-old outfielder elected free agency.
Nava is expected to compete for a bench role on the Phillies’ roster in the spring. As it currently stands, the club’s projected 2017 outfield features Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, with precious little depth behind them. Nava’s bat is underwhelming, but at the very least he offers the Phillies a warm body in left field and a potential platoon partner for one of their younger options, a la Tyler Goeddel or Roman Quinn.