AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME! Sizing up the final week of the regular season


We have a week left in the regular season. And while there is far more settled with a week to go this year than was settled at this time the past couple of years, there is still a whole lot of meaningful baseball to be played this week. Let’s break it all down:

In the National League it looks as though all of the playoff teams are set and all that is left is jockeying for position and home field:

  • The Nationals have clinched the East and are two and a half games in front of the Dodgers for home field throughout the playoffs. They are on a roll right now too, and finish up the season with three against the Mets and four against the Marlins, all at home. The Dodgers are at home too, facing the Giants and the Rockies for three games a piece.
  • The Cardinals have clinched a playoff spot, but have yet to secure the NL Central crown. They’re two and a half in front of the Pirates but have the luxury of facing the Cubs and Diamondbacks to finish out the string. The Pirates have the Braves and Reds. Both teams are on the road for the entire final week.
  • The wild card teams are all but set — the Pirates and Giants are tied, four and a half games ahead of the Brewers, which is an all but insurmountable lead with seven to go — and will jockey this week to decide who gets to play at home for the wild card game. A tie goes to the Pirates, as they have the better head-to-head record.

The location of the wild card game is a tossup, but the Nats have been on fire lately, even after clinching the division, so they look to be home for as long as they’re still playing.

The American League is a bit more complicated, as five teams are jockeying for the final three playoff spots. The breakdown:

  • The Orioles and Angels have both clinched their divisions. The Angels have a two and a half game lead for the best record in the league and home field. The Angels finish on the road against the A’s and Seattle, which could mess with everyone’s immediate future. The O’s finish on the road against the Yankees and the Blue Jays.
  • About those immediate futures: five teams — the A’s, Mariners, Indians Royals and Tigers — need to shoehorn themselves in to three slots. One of them will win the AL Central — the Tigers have a one and a half game lead — the other four are slotted for two wild card slots. The A’s are a half game up on Kansas City, though they are tied in the loss column until this evening. Seattle is a game and half back of the Royals. Cleveland is three and a half back.
  • The Indians seem like a longshot, but they’ll likely gain a half game tonight when they play the resumption of a suspended game with the Royals — which they are leading 4-2 in the 10th inning — and then get three full games against them, in Cleveland. They finish with Rays at home. The Royals go on to play the White Sox in Chicago. Detroit finishes with the somewhat easy assignment of the White Sox and Twins.
  • The A’s finish with the Angels and the recently-surprising Rangers. The Mariners get the Blue Jays and Angels.

So that’s a mess. At the moment — if I were a betting man — I’d give the Central nod to the Tigers and the wild card nod to the Royals and . . . Mariners. Yes, the Mariners, as the A’s have played some pretty listless baseball as of late, the Angels face both teams and that represents a wash and the A’s have to face the recently surging Rangers who you know would like to spoil the A’s season just like the A’s spoiled theirs at the end of the 2012 season.

Of course, as we’ve learned so often this season, anything can happen and predicting baseball is a sucker’s game.

Rays’ Yandy Díaz gets three-year, $24 million deal to avoid arbitration

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tampa Bay Rays infielder Yandy Díaz agreed to a three-year, $24 million contract that avoided a salary arbitration hearing.

Díaz’s agreement could be worth $36 million over four seasons.

The 31-year old will receive $6 million this season, $8 million in 2024 and $10 million for 2025. The 2026 club is $12 million with no buyout. There is a $1 million assignment bonus that would be payable by receiving team.

Díaz has spent parts of six seasons in the majors with Cleveland (2017-18) and Tampa Bay (2019-22). He has a career average of .278 with 39 home runs and 198 RBIs.

Acquired by the Rays in a three-team trade on Dec. 13, 2018, Díaz hit .296 with nine homers and 57 RBIs in 137 games last season, He career highs with 71 runs, 140 hits, 33 doubles, and 78 walks.

Díaz was the third Rays’ arbitration-eligible player to reach a deal.

Reliever Pete Fairbanks agreed Friday to a $12 million, three-year contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons. The 29-year-old right-hander was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Left-hander Jeffrey Springs also agreed last week to a $31 million, four-year contract that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

The 30-year-old began last season in the bullpen and transitioned to the starting rotation in May and finished 9-5 with a 2.46 ERA in 33 appearances, including 25 starts.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, and outfielder Harold Ramírez.