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.
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.
For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.
Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.