Playoff Reset: Both AL Division Series Get Underway

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If the playoffs are a four course meal, the Wild Card Games are the appetizer. Let’s call them, I dunno, gorgonzola phyllo cups or bacon wrapped scallops. That makes the Division Series our second course, so let’s take a look at the Mediterranean tomato bisque and Caprese salad on tap tonight.

The Game: Detroit Tigers vs. Baltimore Orioles, ALDS Game 1
The Time: 5:37 PM Eastern
The Place: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, Maryland
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Max Scherzer vs. Chris Tillman

The Upshot:

  • Strength against strength: the Tigers impressive starting rotation vs. the lineup who socked more homers than anyone in baseball this year. Or, at least that’s how it will be framed. Let’s see how long into the game we go tonight before anyone mentions that the Orioles starters were, overall, fifth in the AL in ERA while the Tigers were 10th. Or that the Tigers were second in run scored and the Orioles sixth. Cy Young hardware and home run totals don’t tell the whole story.
  • Still, if you’re a betting man you tend to take Max Scherzer over Chris Tillman, right? Maybe. Scherzer hasn’t faced the O’s this year. Tillman faced Detroit once and shut ’em down, allowing one run in eight and a third innings. This is not as lopsided a matchup as people who haven’t bothered to familiarize themselves with Tillman may think it is.  Overall, the Tigers took five of six from the O’s, but all of those games took place months and months ago, including Tillman’s win.
  • The Orioles bullpen certainly has the advantage over Detroit’s. And talent aside, Showalter is probably the best in the game at managing his relievers these days. Time and again this year Joe Nathan and, at times, Joba Chamberlain, Al Albuquerque and the rest of the gang has let the Tigers down and that has often prodded Ausmus to stick with his starters longer than he should or than he’d like (not that he has a good choice about it). The single most important factor for the Tigers is how deep the starters go and how efficient they are. The less Ausmus has to go to the pen, the better.
  • You have to figure the Tigers have decided that they don’t want to let Nelson Cruz beat them and that the O’s feel the same way about Miguel Cabrera. You feel, then, that the second bananas on offense are going to decide this thing. Each team has some good second bananas, with Victor and J.D. Martinez on Detroit’s side and Adam Jones and Steve Pearce for Baltimore.

It’s a really evenly-matched series. Should be tons of fun.

The Game: Kansas City Royals vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, ALDS Game 1
The Time: 9:07 PM Eastern
The Place: Angels Stadium, Anaheim, California
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jason Vargas vs. Jered Weaver

The Upshot:

  • The best team in baseball this year takes on the Cinderella story. And it’s more of a study in contrasts than just that. A power team in the Angels vs. a running, small-ball team in the Royals. An effective yet cobbled-together bullpen for Anaheim and three stone cold assassins in Herrera, Davis and Holland for Kansas City. Finally: the steady hand of Mike Scioscia vs. the force of nature that is Ned Yost. Well, the force of something.
  • Big bats like Mike Trout’s aside, the Angels key to victory is going to be getting the most out of a seriously compromised rotation. Weaver has long been the Angels’ ace and that’s well and good for tonight, but injuries and uncertainty have caused Mike Scioscia to go to a three-man rotation in this series. One of those three man, Matt Shoemaker, is coming off an oblique injury. The other, C.J. Wilson, has been pretty shaky down the stretch. Look for a lot of innings from long men/back of rotation starters Cory Rasmus and Hector Santiago.
  • The Royals rotation seems stronger right now. Ace James Shields will not be able to go until Game 3, but Vargas and Yordano Ventura have been solid all year. Yost can go to either Jeremy Guthrie or Danny Duffy as a fourth option, though it appears as though Yost prefers to keep Duffy in the pen. Which makes no damn sense to me, but again, it’s Ned Yost.
  • For as wild and wacky as the AL Wild Card Game was, the Royals’ gameplan has not changed: try to get six innings out of their starters, scratch together a bit offense and hope like hell they have a lead entering the seventh when Yost can go with his bullpen script. If things do not go according to plan, well, don’t count on fortune smiling on the Royals for five games like it did for one game the other night. The longer Ned Yost has to riff, the more likely he is to play a sour note.

On paper the Angels are way better. Fortunately for the Royals and all of us watching, they play the game on grass.

Rays’ Díaz gets $24 million, three-year deal, avoids arbitration

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tampa Bay Rays infielder Yandy Díaz agreed to a $24 million, three-year contract on Tuesday 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.