Braves score four times in ninth to lower magic number to 1

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The Braves busted open a 5-5 game with four runs in the ninth to beat the Cubs 9-5 on Friday and clinch at least a tie in the NL East with the Nationals scheduled to play later tonight.

All four runs in the ninth came after Freddie Freeman was intentionally walked by Kevin Gregg to set up a double play. But that wasn’t the curious decision from Dale Sveum. The real mystery is why Blake Parker and Pedro Strop were both removed from the game after retiring two batters apiece. Parker got the final out of the seventh and first of the eighth, then was lifted after nine pitches. Strop came in and threw eight pitches to finish the eighth, then was taken out before the ninth even though his spot in the order never came up.

While Gregg has closed most of the year, Parker and Strop have been the Cubs’ best right-handed relievers. Strop’s quick hook might have been explained by the fact that he pitched yesterday, but if that’s an issue, why use him at all in a game that’s pretty meaningless for the Cubs? Parker didn’t pitch Thursday, and there’s no reason he couldn’t have gotten all four outs himself. It’s especially baffling given that Sveum said earlier this week that Strop was now the closer. So, not only was the new closer used in a tie game today, but since he’s now pitched two days in a row, he probably won’t be available for a save chance on Saturday.

OK, back to the Braves. Chris Johnson and Freeman both homered off Scott Baker in this one. Johnson collected three hits in all, raising his average to .3306. He’s barely behind Michael Cuddyer at .3311 for the NL lead. Jason Heyward went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in his return from a broken jaw. As scripted, he was removed from the game after five innings. He’ll sit tomorrow and start again Sunday. Dan Uggla went 0-for-3 with a couple of walks, but he nearly homered in a second straight game, barely pulling a ball foul off Gregg in the ninth.

The Braves will clinch the NL East if the Marlins beat the Nationals this evening. Otherwise, they can do it with another victory over the Cubs tomorrow.

Josh Donaldson is still seeking a long-term deal with the Blue Jays

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If it were up to him, Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson would finish the remainder of his career in Toronto. In fact, he’d be “ticked pink” if the club decided to sign him to a long-term deal. Whether the Blue Jays share that sentiment is still unclear, as Donaldson said Saturday that the team has yet to engage his agent in extension talks.

“I’ve said that I wanted to be here,” he told MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm. “That’s pretty much all I can say. I’m not the one who makes the decisions, nor would I try to put them in the position to do that. Like I said, I believe the situation will become more fluid when the time is right.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean an extension is out of the question. The Blue Jays reached an unprecedented one-year, $23 million agreement with the three-time All-Star in arbitration, and have been reticent to field trade offers despite continued interest from the Cardinals this winter.

Donaldson, 32, is poised to enter his eighth season in the majors and fourth with the Blue Jays. In 2017, he batted .270/.385/.559 with 33 home runs and a .944 OPS in 496 plate appearances, ranking sixth among all major league third baseman with 5.0 fWAR. He’s scheduled to enter free agency following the 2018 season.