Yankees, Rays now put focus on division

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It was a dramatic night in the MLB playoff races on Tuesday, with the Cincinnati Reds clinching the NL Central for their first postseason trip since 1995, and the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays also assuring themselves places in the postseason, eliminating the Boston Red Sox in the process.

The AL teams are locked up, with the Twins and Rangers joining the Yankees and Rays in the field. And with the Reds joining the Phillies in the NL, six of the eight playoff spots are accounted for.

So what’s left? Let’s break it down:

AMERICAN LEAGUE: Who plays who?

Now that they have both secured a playoff berth, the Rays and Yankees can relax, right? Perhaps not. Remember that the team that wins the AL East will receive home-field advantage in the ALDS and likely play the Texas Rangers (87-70) who are on their way to finishing with the worst record among the AL playoff teams.

The team that settles for the wild-card spot will then have to play the Minnesota Twins, who as a division champ will hold the home-field edge even if the wild-card team has a better record. And remember that Minnesota is 52-25 in its first season at Target Field.

So the AL East title should matter to both teams.

“We still have aspirations of winning our division and trying to get homefield advantage,” Joe Girardi told the Associated Press. “I’ve got to pick my spots to rest guys.”

As far as head-to-head records this season, the only team with a distinct advantage over another appears to be the Twins against the Rangers, as Minnesota has beaten Texas seven times in 10 games. Those teams can’t meet until the ALCS, however. Here are the head to head matchups of possible first-round foes:

Yankees 6, Twins 4
Yankees 4, Rangers 4
Rays 5, Twins 3
Rays 4, Rangers 2

NATIONAL LEAGUE: It’s wild in the West

At an NL-best 94-64, the Philadelphia Phillies have guaranteed themselves home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, so look for Charlie Manuel to concentrate on keeping his players sharp while resting his regulars and setting up his rotation for the playoffs. This could bode well for the Atlanta Braves, who finish the season with a series against Philly. Other than that, not much is guaranteed in the National League at this point.

Like the Phillies, the NL Central champion Reds are also in. But aside from that there is much left to be decided, with the Giants and Padres battling for the NL West, and with whoever loses out on that race fighting the Braves for the NL wild card.

If the wild-card team comes from the NL West, they will face the Phillies in the first round. But if the Braves win the wild card, the Phillies will face either the Reds or the NL West champs, whoever has the worst record. Seeing as how the Braves (89-69), Reds (88-69), Giants (89-68) and Padres (87-70) are all within two games of each other, you might want to hold off on reserving any flights for a few more days.

To get a full breakdown on the remaining playoff races, click here.

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Astros claim AL pennant with walk-off win against the Yankees

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Following a rollercoaster performance on Saturday, the Astros clinched the American League Championship Series with a decisive 6-4 walk-off win against the Yankees, claiming their second AL pennant and earning a well-deserved entrance to the World Series.

Both clubs decided to preserve possible Game 7 starters Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole, electing to have a “bullpen day” for a pivotal Game 6. Chad Green took the mound for the Yankees, tossing one inning before handing the ball off to a long line of relievers, while Brad Peacock‘s rare playoff start was capped at 1 2/3 innings. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that made it the first postseason game since 1999 in which neither starting pitcher lasted two innings or longer.

All told, the two clubs utilized a total of 13 pitchers to make it through nine innings. The Astros lost Ryan Pressly to a worrisome knee injury in the third, but were able to lean on José Urquidy for 2 2/3 innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball. Although Yankees’ bullpen fought back in every inning, they had considerable difficulty recovering from Yuli Gurriel‘s three-run homer off of Green in the bottom of the first:

Still, New York managed to get in a couple of knocks as well: first, with Gary Sanchez‘s RBI single in the second inning, then with Gio Urshela‘s 395-foot blast in the fourth inning — the second of his postseason career to date. That wasn’t enough to close the gap, however, and Alex Bregman‘s productive groundout in the sixth helped cushion the Astros’ lead as they headed toward the final few innings of the series.

That lead started to look a little shaky in the ninth. Only three outs away from a ticket to the World Series, Houston closer Roberto Osuna gave up a leadoff single to Urshela, which was quickly followed by a jaw-dropping, full-count, game-tying two-run shot from DJ LeMahieu that barely cleared the right field fence.

With the threat of extra innings and a potential loss looming, the Astros engineered a last-minute rally to regain the lead and stake their claim for the pennant. With two outs and no runners on, George Springer took a five-pitch walk from Aroldis Chapman. In the next at-bat, Houston pinned their hopes on José Altuve — and he didn’t disappoint, lifting a 2-1 slider out to left field for a 406-foot, two-RBI homer that confirmed the Astros’ series win.

The 2019 World Series will mark the third Fall Classic appearance for the Astros and the first for the Nationals. It all begins on Tuesday night.