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What’s at stake in the final week of the season

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There are seven days of baseball left in the 2018 regular season. While the home stretch has not been quite as boring as many of us predicted it would be before the year began — really, the consensus had every division race being a total walkover back in March — the drama is still far less than it often is in late September.

Four of the six division races are over, one of the four Wild Cards have been clinched, another is all but clinched and a third is pretty certain as well. While the final day of the season will still feature all 30 teams beginning play at the same time in order to amp-up that last day drama, there is a strong possibility that there will be no drama to amp-up. Here’s where we stand:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Boston and Cleveland have clinched their divisions and Houston is darn close, holding a four and a half game lead — a five-game lead in the loss column — with seven games to play. With four of those games coming against the Orioles, yeah, I feel like they have the West wrapped up. The Yankees have clinched one Wild Card slot and the A’s are one win, or one Tampa Bay Rays loss, from clinching the second.

All that really needs to be determined is who plays where in the playoffs. The Yankees have a one and a half game lead over the A’s for home field in the Wild Card game, though they also hold the tiebreaker. Odds are that game will be played in Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox will have home field in the ALDS against the winner of that game and Houston will host the Indians to kick off their ALDS. All of which is to say, there is little drama in the Junior Circuit.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Things are a tad more interesting here, as the Braves are the only team that has clinched anything. They have the NL East and a playoff berth. Which isn’t to say that things are totally up in the air. There are four playoff spots remaining, yes, but there are only five teams in competition for them: the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers and Rockies. One of those first three teams will win the NL Central, one of those last two will win the NL West and the other three teams are in a scramble for the two Wild Cards.

At the moment the Cubs hold a two and a half game lead over the Brewers — three in the loss column — and play four games against the Pirates and three against St. Louis.  The Brewers and Cardinals, separated by a game and a half, meet for three in St. Louis starting today and then go on to play Detroit and the Cubs, respectively. The Dodgers lead the Rockies for the division and the Rockies likewise trail the Cardinals for the second Wild Card by a game and a half. L.A. finishes the season with three against the Diamondbacks and three against the Giants. The Rockies close out against Philly and Washington, all at home in Denver.

All of which is to say that, even if this is a game of musical chairs and, mostly, a race for seeding, there is at least some drama and a lot of scoreboard watching to come in the National League.

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

There is likewise little drama to be had in the individual awards by my reckoning.

AL MVP: I think Mookie Betts sewed it up with his big homer against the Yankees in the division-clinching game last week. It helps that, drama aside, he deserves it, even if Mike Trout it a defensible choice as well. I think Betts will win it and the vote won’t be close.

AL CY Young Award: Blake Snell of the Rays is my pick and I think he’ll also be a fairly easy winner.

NL MVP: Some drama here, yes, as Christian Yelich and Javier Baez are most people’s favorites. It’s not crazy to say that how they do this week, and how their teams do this week, will determine it. Not saying that’s fair, just saying that it’s not crazy to say it.

NL Cy Young: I think people have come around to the notion that, win totals aside, Jacob deGrom‘s stellar season — he currently holds a 1.77 ERA and has not had a clunker of a game all year — is worthy of recognition. He’ll probably get some MVP consideration as well, even if it’s down ballot love.

So that’s where we are. Let’s hope for some National League chaos to keep this last week interesting, but otherwise, it’s just waiting for the playoffs to start.

 

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.