Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter looks on during play against the Toronto Blue Jays in their first game of a double header during an MLB American League baseball game in Baltimore

Three exciting days left in the regular season

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We are down to the final three days of the regular season, and there is so much still to be decided. Here’s an overview for the craziness that will be afoot between now and Wednesday night:

The Races:

The teams involved in the playoffs are close to being set. The Yankees, Orioles and Rangers have clinched three of the five playoff spots in the American League. The Nationals, Braves, Reds and Giants have clinched four of the five in the NL.  All that’s left as far as the participants go are the identity of the AL Central representative and the final two wild card teams.

  • The Tigers have a three-game lead over the fading White Sox in the AL Central. One Tigers win in any of their final three games against the Royals in Kansas City or one White Sox loss in any of their final three in Cleveland gives the division crown to Detroit.
  • As for the wild card, in the American League, the Athletics are one win — or one Angels loss — in any of the final three games away from clinching.  The A’s play their final series at home against the Texas Rangers.  The Angels play their final three on the road against the Mariners.
  • In the National League, the Cardinals are two wins — or two Dodgers losses — in any of the final three games away from clinching.  The Cardinals finish up at home against the Reds. The Dodgers finish up at home against the Giants.

But making the postseason isn’t everything. Not in this new world of the one-game wild card playoff.  That’s what the Yankees and Orioles are playing for in the AL East. They are in a deadlock at 92-67, and each want like the dickens to avoid having to play that all-or-nothing wild card game on Friday.  The Orioles play their final three at Tropicana Field against the hot, hot Tampa Bay Rays.  The Yankees finish up at home against the Red Sox.

Technically speaking the Nationals and Rangers have not yet clinched their divisions either, but each hold a three-game lead over their pursuers — the Braves and Athletics, respectively — so any one win by the leader or one loss by the second place team ends those races as well.

The most likely playoff matchups:

The most likely outcomes right now would lead to the following playoff matchups:

  • Wild card playoff: The Cardinals vs. Braves in Atlanta and the loser of the AL East — my guess is the Orioles due to that tough series against Tampa Bay — facing off against the Athletics.  That game will be played in the home park of the team with the better record.
  • Division Series:  The wild card team that advances to the Division Series will face the team with the best record in the league.  At present, the Reds and Nationals have identical 96-63 records. Currently the Rangers have the best record in the AL, but both the Orioles and Yankees are only a game behind.  The upshot: we won’t know until Wednesday who the wild card playoff winner will face.

Awards:

  • AL MVP:  If the season ended today, Miguel Cabrera would win the Triple Crown. But it doesn’t end today, and his lead for the batting title (.325 to Joe Mauer’s .323 and Mike Trout’s .321) and the home run title (tied with Josh Hamilton at 43) are razor-thin.  Many suspect that if Cabrera wins the Triple Crown — a feat which has not been accomplished since 1967 — he will win the MVP.  Others — including your dear author — believe that winning the Triple Crown, however rare and admirable a feat that is does not make up for the fact that Mike Trout is the better all-around player, posting batting numbers that are close to Cabrera’s, but standing as the far, far superior defender and baserunner.
  • NL MVP: The National League has a close race for the MVP as well, although only one of the leading candidates — Buster Posey — is on a playoff-bound team.  Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are still in the conversation.
  • Cy Young Award: The Cy Young Award races are fairly wide open. In the National League R.A. Dickey still has one start remaining, and we’re likely to still see appearances from the relief candidates who have bandied about: Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman.  The AL Cy Young is even more up-f0r-grabs. Neither Justin Verlander nor David Price will start again, however. Jered Weaver will pitch on the last day of the season and, though remote, it’s possible he’ll be trying to pitch the Angels into the playoffs.
  • Rookies, Managers of the Year: Rookies of the Year haven’t gotten much talk of late, but Mike Trout is a mortal lock in the American League. Wade Miley of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks to be the front runner in the senior circuit.  Most folks figure that Buck Showalter and Davey Johnson have the Manager of the Year awards locked up, and nothing that happens this week will change that.

Three days left. So much already decided, yes. But still so much to play for. Buckle up, everyone.

Video: Minor leaguer dives over the wall to rob a home run

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Meanwhile, in Tulsa, Zach Welz of the visiting Arkansas Travelers made a spectacular catch. It was the catch Torii Hunter tried to make on that famous David Ortiz homer in the playoffs a few years back except Welz made it.

Watch as he topples over the wall to come up with the would-be dinger off the bat of Tulsa Drillers first baseman Cody Bellinger:

MLB, MLBPA move to help baseball in Puerto Rico. After hurting baseball in Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30:  A Puerto Rican flag flies from a building a day after the speech Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave regarding the government's $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Yesterday Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union announced that they will play games in Puerto Rico as part of a plan to develop and support baseball on the island. They likewise pledged $5 million for the creation of development programs in Puerto Rico and plan to stage special events there.

The press release about this made mention of Puerto Rico’s undeniably outstanding baseball tradition. What it did not mention is that, in the view of many, Major League Baseball itself harmed that tradition significantly when it decided to subject Puerto Rican players to the draft in 1990. A move that the MLBPA signed off on too, of course. Indeed, there’s a pretty strong argument that, if it were not for MLB and the MLBPA’s own acts, there would be no need to “develop and support” baseball in Puerto Rico like this at all.

An exploration of this can be read in this 2012 article from The New York Times. The article (and many, many others like it which have been written over the years) notes the sharp decline of Puerto Rico’s professional and amateur baseball leagues and observes that the once steady flow of players making their way from the island to the major leagues being reduced to a trickle.* (see update below) Why?

No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: Major League Baseball’s decision, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its first-year player draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they have completed high school to sign a professional contract, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft.

Perhaps more important, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico because those players may end up with another team through the draft.

Sandy Alderson is quoted in that article dismissing the notion that the draft was to blame, but even his dodge is couched in basic economic incentives. He claims that, hey, there is stuff that is more financially lucrative for people to do in Puerto Rico than play baseball now. Well, sure. I’d just like him to explain how radically reducing the amount of money a kid can get from playing baseball due to taking away his right to sign with the highest bidder and by utterly killing the incentives for clubs to invest in developing players doesn’t enter into that calculus. Alderson doesn’t explain that one.

No matter what Major League Baseball might say on the record about all of this now, the fact remains that no one spent the past 26 years building academies in Puerto Rico like they have in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. No one has an incentive to turn a 12-year-old with promise into a 16-year-old prospect like they do in those countries because there is no longer any way for a teenager to sign for life-changing money like they can elsewhere. The draft has saved Major League Baseball hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to Puerto Rican players over the past 26 years and it has reduced the number of prospects who may push high-salaried MLBPA members out of work, but has done tremendous damage to the baseball tradition to which Major League Baseball and the MLBPA now pay lip service.

I’m glad that MLB and the MLBPA are doing something about baseball in Puerto Rico. But $5 million over the course of four or five years, which is what this plan involves, a couple of games (if they’re even played), doesn’t even represent a fraction of the damage that the league and the union inflicted when they imposed the draft.

UPDATE: A couple of people who know a hell of a lot about this stuff have pushed back against my post on Twitter:

Marcano has written a book about the excesses and abuses involved in the development of baseball talent in Latin America. He is 100% right about this and, to the extent my writing above made it sound like I was endorsing the model in place in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic on its own terms, I want to be clear that I am not. There is a lot of bad stuff that goes on there and for every kids signing a million dollar bonus, there are hundreds who find themselves at a professional dead end or far, far worse.

That said: Major League Baseball has no problem exploiting that system in those countries and its move to impose the draft in Puerto Rico was not born of some principled stand against those excesses. It was to be a foothold for an international draft which is primarily about cost savings. It would be quite possible to have a system in place that both (a) protects kids from abuses; but (b) provides the sorts of financial incentives to make baseball a worthwhile pursuit for those with the talent to play it.

Also:

Cooper, the managing editor of Baseball America, so he knows of what he speaks, notes that from 1987-1990, before the draft was imposed, 19 Puerto Ricans made their Major League debut. From 2000-03, 23 made their debuts. From 2013-16, 22 made their debuts.

That certainly blows my above comment about “reducing the flow of players to the majors to a trickle” out of the water. That said, Major League Baseball’s move yesterday was not just about the pipeline to the majors. It’s about baseball overall in Puerto Rico. Those numbers reflecting that the top eschelon of talent is still making it to the majors are undeniable, but the Times article from 2012 talks about the erosion of amateur leagues, Puerto Rico’s diminished standing in international tournaments and the reduction in size of the Puerto Rican winter league.

So, OK, I’ll walk back my comments about just how much the imposition of the draft in 1990 damaged baseball in Puerto Rico, but I maintain that it’s hard to argue that it did not do some damage.