Two days left: here’s where it stands

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For those of you too busy watching football or something silly like that last night, here’s where we stand with two days left in the regular season.

Nine of the ten playoff teams are known: the Yankees, Orioles, Tigers, Rangers and Athletics will represent the American League. The Nationals, Braves, Reds and Giants will represent the National League.  The final slot in the NL will come down to the Cardinals and the Dodgers, but more on that in a second. Here’s how it all breaks down:

American League

  • The Yankees won and the Orioles lost last night, giving New York a one game advantage in the AL East race with two to play. The loser will be the wild card winner;
  • The Athletics beat the Rangers last night, clinching a playoff spot and pulling to within one game of the AL West lead. They play two more head-to-head, with the loser settling for the other wild card slot. The A’s win eliminated both the Angles and the Rays from playoff contention;
  • The Tigers win over the Royals gave the AL Central title to Detroit. The White Sox were eliminated from postseason consideration.

National League

  • The Nationals lost to Philadelphia, but the Braves loss to Pittsburgh gave Washington the NL East crown. Atlanta will host the wild card game on Friday.
  • St. Louis and Los Angeles each won.  The Cardinals win clinches at least a tie for the second NL wild card. If they win one of their last two games — or if the Dodgers lose either of their last two — St. Louis will be the wild card representative.  If the Cards lose two and the Dodgers win two, it’s a tie, and the teams will play a one-game playoff on Thursday to determine who plays the Braves in the wild card game on Friday.
  • The Reds and Giants have already clinched their respective divisions.

Triple Crown and MVP race

Miguel Cabrera homered and went 4 for 5 in last night’s game, giving him sole possession of the home run lead to match his lead in the batting and RBI race.  He currently leads Mike Trout — who also had a huge game last night — .329-.325 in the batting title race, has one more home run than Josh Hamilton and ten more RBI than Hamilton.

As far as the MVP implications, the Angels being eliminated from the playoffs may sway a few more voters to go with Cabrera for the MVP than otherwise would. If I had to bet money on it right now, I say that Cabrera will win the MVP whether he wins the triple crown or not.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.