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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.

 

And That Happened: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

White Sox 8, Red Sox 7: Sox win! Chicago led by three in the seventh, blew that by the bottom of the eighth, but José Abreu hit a two-run jack in the top of the ninth to bring the White Sox back. The foundation of the win was the White Sox pouncing on Chris Sale for five runs in the first three innings. He struck out ten and only walked one, but when he wasn’t missing bats he wasn’t missing bats. Sale is still one of the best pitchers in the game but he hasn’t won at home in almost a year. “For some reason, I suck here,” he said after the game. Relatable. To any number of situations in basically of our lives.

Yankees 8, Blue Jays 7: The Jays jumped out to a 5-0 lead but there really isn’t any safe lead against the Yankees this year. Didi Gregorius homered in the second, Aaron Judge singled in a couple in the second as well and D.J. LeMahieu hit a two-run homer to tie things up at five in the fourth. It was tied up at seven by the bottom of the ninth and Gleyber Torres hit a walkoff single to win it for the Bombers. Lourdes Gurriel Jr hit two homers and a double in a losing cause.

The Yankees and Red Sox now head off to London. Blimey, cor, wot’s all this, then, etc.

Indians 5, Royals 3: Trevor Bauer finally had a great day after a couple of months of struggling, striking out 12 while allowing one run into the seventh. He didn’t even allow a hit until the fifth. Jake Bauers and Tyler Naquin homered in support. Francisco Lindor was 3-for-4 and Jason KipnisOscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow each drove in a run. Hunter Dozier hit a ninth inning grand slam on Tuesday. He struck out four times in four at bats here. Baseball is just the worst, you guys, right?

Padres 10, Orioles 5: Franmil Reyes hit two homers. The Padres hit five in all, with Eric Hosmer, Greg Garcia, and Hunter Renfroe going deep as well. This was the tenth time this year the Orioles have allowed five homers in a game. They’ve now allowed 165 homers on the year in 80 games. The 1970 Orioles allowed 125 all year long. Just sayin’.

Diamondbacks 8, Dodgers 2: Arizona was facing off against Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin, who was making his big league debut and jumped out to a 4-0 lead, so, yeah. A three-run homer from Eduardo Escobar paced things in the first and the Snakes would never trail. Jarrod Dyson had three hits, knocked in a run and stole two bases. Russell Martin pitched in this one. Tossed a scoreless eighth, actually, and struck a dude out.

Rockies 6, Giants 3: The Giants jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first but David Dahl hit a grand slam in the third and drove in five in all. Man of the match, right? Is that a thing we have in baseball? We should have that.

Rangers 4, Tigers 1: Mike Minor tossed a complete game allowing on run on five hits and needed only 108 pitches to do the job. Homers from Willie Calhoun, Danny Santana and Jeff Mathis backed him up. The game only took two hours and nineteen minutes. I’d say the Tigers had a plane to catch or something but they’re just playing the Rangers again today. Maybe they all had early reservations at Sammy Sofferin’s Wonder Bar and Indian Room. I hear that Latin troupe extraordinaire, the La Playa Dancers, led by the exotically beautiful Grace Conrad often play on Wednesday nights. Get there early, get a seat by the stage, fill up on Shrimp a la Powhatan and you’re living, buddy.

Phillies 5, Mets 4: Jason Vargas pitched great, giving up only one run to the Phillies for the first six innings, but he ran into trouble in the seventh. That’s when he gave up a second run and left, having struck out ten. Seth Lugo came on in relief and gave up a two more runs, and bing-bang-boom, tied at four, which is how it’d end in regulation. Stephen Nogosek came on to handle the 10th inning but couldn’t record an out, giving up a walk, a single and then a walkoff double to Jay Bruce to end the game. If you wanna feel bad for Vargas for having such a great start blown by his pen, know that a few days later he’s still trying to justify threatening a reporter with violence. Here’s what he said after last night’s game:

“I don’t think all the information is really out there. I don’t think this is a time to get into that. But I think that anybody that knows me, anybody that has played with me, there’s never been a situation like that. So to think it happened out of the blue, it’s foolish . . . “It’s over. Our organization made a statement. We put an end to it. But I think it’s pretty obvious all the info isn’t out there.”

Whatever, my man.

The Mets have lost four in a row. Philly’s seven-game losing streak is now way back in the rear-view mirror, with three straight wins over the Mets.

Angels 5, Reds 1: Yasiel Puig and Justin Bour exchanged solo sots to make it a 1-1 game until the eighth inning. The the Halos scored one more before Bour homered again, this time a three-run blast to give him a four-RBI night and to give the Angels a win. Bour has four homers in five games since being recalled from Salt Lake. You might say he’s really enjoyed the spotlight since being recalled:

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Nationals 7, Marlins 5: It was close until the sixth when Matt Adams hit a three-run blast to make it 4-1. The Nats added three more in the ninth, with runs coming on a wild pitch, a passed ball and a sac fly. They all count. And two of those runs were needed as the Marlins made it interesting with a four-run ninth inning rally of their own, with Bryan Holaday singling in a run and Curtis Granderson tripling with the bases loaded. The old man is still an artist with a Thompson.

Athletics 2, Cardinals 0: Daniel Mengden and his old-timey delivery stymied the Cards for six innings and three relievers finished the five-hit shutout. Beau Taylor and Matt Chapman went deep for Oakland. St. Louis has been shut out six times this season. Three of them have come in the last 14 games.

Mariners 4, Brewers 2: J.P. Crawford drove in three of the M’s four runs and scored the fourth, notching two RBI doubles and an RBI triple. Wade LeBlanc allowed two runs after coming in following an opener and the opener and two other relievers shut Milwaukee out. That’s three straight wins for Seattle.

Braves 5, Cubs 3: Atlanta took a 4-0 lead off of Yu Darvish early thanks to a wild pitch, a Brian McCann solo shot and a Nick Markakis three-run homer. Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant homered for Chicago and they’d add a third run on a Jason Heyward ground out, but otherwise Dallas Keuchel was solid — more solid before a 48 minute rain delay in the fourth than he was upon resuming the game after — and picked up his first win of 2019.

Pirates 14, Astros 2: It was 8-2 heading into the ninth when A.J. Hinch sent first baseman Tyler White to the mound. Sometimes those position players pitching do an OK job mopping up. White did not, allowing six runs on four hits — two of ’em dingers — while walking four. Every team has eleventeen relief pitchers but they’re all drag racers instead of horses and so none of ’em can go more than an inning, leading to silliness like this. Great game we got going right now, eh? Anyway, Josh Bell, Jung-Ho Kang, José Osuna and Kevin Newman homered and Corey Dickerson had four hits and three RBI. 

Twins 6, Rays 4: Minnesota jumped out to a 3-0 lead, had blown it by the seventh to trail 4-3 but then Nelson Cruz hit a go-ahead, three-run, two-out double in the seventh to give the Twins the win. The Rays have lost seven of nine.