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Nationals targeting left-handed reliever J.P. Howell

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After watching Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny all sign elsewhere this offseason, the Nationals are in the market for a left-handed reliever. The pickings are starting to thin out, but Dan Kolko of MASNSports.com reports that J.P. Howell remains the club’s top choice in free agency.

Howell, who turns 30 in April, posted a 3.04 ERA and 42/22 K/BB ratio over 50 1/3 innings this past season with the Rays. He has held left-handed batters to a .241/.323/.351 batting line and a .675 OPS during his career. Considering what some of the other left-handed relievers have received this offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising if he lands a multi-year contract.

As of now, Zach Duke is the only left-handed reliever on the Nationals’ 40-man roster. Bill Bray signed a minor league deal with the club earlier this offseason, but he was limited to just 14 relief appearances with the Reds this past season due to back and groin injuries.

Royals clinch home field advantage, best record in the American League

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With a 6-1 win over the Twins in Sunday’s season finale, the Royals clinched the best record in the American League, which nets them home field advantage in the ALDS and ALCS. The Royals stand at 95-67 while the Blue Jays, who lost on Sunday, finish at 93-69.

95-67 is the Royals’ best record since finishing 97-65 in 1980, when they lost the World Series to the Phillies. Their division title is their first since 1985.

In the ALDS, which starts on Thursday, the Royals will host the winner of the AL Wild Card game between the Astros and Yankees. They are looking to avenge last year’s World Series loss, in seven games, to the Giants. The Blue Jays will host the Rangers in the other ALDS series.

Yankees to host AL Wild Card Game after Astros lose to D’Backs

Jacoby Ellsbury, Tony Pena
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Both the Astros’ and the Yankees’ fates were decided before their own games had completed on Sunday. The Rangers defeated the Angels, which clinched a Wild Card spot for the Astros. Then the Astros dropped Sunday’s season finale to the Diamondbacks, which clinched the first AL Wild Card slot for the Yankees. The Yankees are on their way to a loss against the Orioles as of this writing, but that will not affect anything now.

The Astros were in a 3-3 tie with the Diamondbacks in the seventh inning, but reliever Chad Qualls served up a two-run home run to Paul Goldschmidt. That would prove to be the deciding factor in a 5-3 loss.

The Yankees are losing 7-4 to the Orioles behind a subpar start by Michael Pineda and a shaky performance by the bullpen.

The MLB postseason opens up with the Yankees hosting the Astros on Tuesday in the AL Wild Card game. The winner moves on to face the Royals in Kansas City in the ALDS.