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The Weekend Takeaway

Can you believe this was the penultimate weekend of the regular season? In some ways it feels like March 29 was only a few weeks ago and yet the All-Star game feels like it was three years ago. It’s strange how that happens.

It was a busy weekend featuring signs that the end was coming sooner rather than later. A few teams clinched playoff spots and a few teams were eliminated from postseason play.

First up: The good stuff! Like the Braves clinching the National League East for the first time since 2013, when they lost the Division Series to the Dodgers. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get all negative there. Let’s be positive! Ronald Acuna and his 3.9 WARP were a big reason why Atlanta is playoff position. He should win the NL Rookie of the Year award and be fun to watch for years to come.

The NL Central and NL West are still close and there’s still time for some shenanigans. (Fingers crossed.)

The Yankees clinched a spot in the playoffs with a walk-off win against the Orioles on Saturday but it came at a price. Didi Gregorius tore cartilage in his right wrist as he slid safely into home to win the game and clinch the playoff berth. An MRI on Sunday revealed the tear and, while he hopes to play again this season, the odds might not be in Gregorius’ favor.

For now, the Yankees are focused on clinching home field advantage in the American League Wild Card game, which will more than likely be against Oakland. They own a slim 1 ½ game lead over Oakland and are heading to Tampa Bay for four games. Tropicana Field hasn’t been kind to the Yankees this season.

The A’s are playing the Mariners, who have been eliminated from postseason play again. They own the longest playoff drought in the majors but hey, they play at Safeco Field which is one of the nicer stadiums in baseball so they have that going for them.

They also have this: Ichiro and the Rangers’ mascot having a pillow fight. Actually, I think that’s overselling it. It wasn’t even a kerfuffle.

Tampa Bay could play spoiler this week and help Oakland snatch home field advantage from the Bronx Bombers.

Should be fun for everyone who hates the Yankees and likes the A’s!

Quick Hits

The Rockies swept the Diamondbacks at Chase Field to keep pace with the Dodgers, who won two of the three from the Padres, including a two-touchdown game Sunday they won 14-0. The Dodgers hold a slim 1 ½ game lead over the Rockies in the NL West and they have the same record as the Cardinals, who hold the second NL Wild Card spot.

In the NL Central, the Cubs hold a 2 ½ game lead over the Brewers while the Brewers are two games in front of the Cardinals for home-field advantage in the Wild Card game. And guess who’s playing this week? The Brew Crew and the Cards! And they’re playing in St. Louis.

Milwaukee also won with a football Sunday. They beat the Pirates 13-6. Maybe because it was Sunday? Who knows. But they cut their magic number to 4. That’s why this series with St. Louis is important.

The Dodgers will be facing the poor Diamondbacks, who are sleep-walking toward the end of the season. After the sweep by Colorado, Arizona is eliminated from the NL West and might as well be from the Wild Card. They’re eight back in that race.

Oh well. Maybe next year?

Like I say every week, things are a bit chaotic in the National League and I am loving every second of it.

***

Things aren’t as chaotic in the American League but some things still need to be settled. It’s just a matter of time before Houston wraps up the West; Cleveland and Boston already clinched division crowns, with formalities home-field advantage throughout the playoffs unsettled. Boston will wrap that up this week.

What I find fascinating about the AL is how Boston and Houston’s final won-lost totals are going to be so much higher than Cleveland’s and, what’s more, both Wild Card teams are going to finish with better records barring a disastrous end to the season for either Oakland or New York. Another stat that Cleveland should be worried about heading into the playoffs is their record against teams with records of .500 or better. Boston, Houston, and New York all have pretty good records against teams who are .500 or better while Cleveland is 23-31.

Cleveland beat Boston last night in the 11th inning on a Greg Allen single off Robby Scott. And they won on Saturday night in the 11th inning on a Michael Brantley single off Drew Pomeranz. Both hits came after intentional walks. Isn’t late September baseball fun?

What happens during the season often has no bearing on what happens in the playoffs. Like last year, for instance, the Indians went 5-2 against the Yankees which included a three-game sweep in Yankee Stadium in late August and they still lost the Division Series to the New York in five games.

But, on the other hand, if the Indians are going to be facing Houston in the Division Series, they could be in big trouble. Houston has been rolling on all cylinders lately and if they continue on that roll, the Indians will be leaving early again.

Speaking of the Astros, Justin Verlander set a career high in strikeouts. He has 280 K’s this season. His previous high was 269 way back in 2009 and he had 250 in 2011 when he won both the AL Cy Young and AL MVP.

This is Verlander’s age 35 season and he’s pitching better than he has in nearly a decade. Maybe it’s the change of scenery. Or maybe he’s the reincarnation of Roger Clemens who’s still alive, I know, but whose career was similar. People said Clemens was done and, by people I mean the Red Sox’s front office, and he went to Toronto and was born again. I guess will find out how similar Verlander is to Clemens if he can pitch until he’s 44.

***

The Orioles reached the 110-loss plateau against the Yankees and reports have surfaced saying Buck Showalter will be out at the end of the season. I understand they want to shake things up and that Buck’s been there for a while but it wasn’t his fault that the team did so badly, it was the owner’s fault for setting them up to fail. Hear that, Angelos?

Showalter has been managing the Orioles since 2010 and they went to the playoffs under his direction in 2012, 2014 and they lost in the Wild Card game in 2016.

Defensive Plays of the Weekend

Steve Wilkerson didn’t have much luck trying to score against the Yankees on Saturday.

First Gleyber Torres nailed him at home in the 3rd inning:

And the Aaron Judge uncorked an accurate throw from shallow right to nail Wilkerson again in the fifth inning:

But don’t worry about Wilkerson, he exacted revenge on Torres by throwing him out at home and he ended Sunday’s game with a sliding grab and throw from his knees to nail Aaron Hicks at first for the final out:

What to Watch on Monday

I’ve already laid it out above but here you go: The Cubs are playing the Pirates while the Brewers are playing in St. Louis against the Cardinals. These are important games and series because the NL Central still isn’t wrapped up and the Milwaukee/St. Louis series has Wild Card implications. Milwaukee wants to keep home field advantage and St. Louis would love to steal it from them.

Over in the American League, it’s the same sort of situation. The two games and series you need to watch also have Wild Card implications. The Yankees are trying to wrap up home field advantage so they can host the Wild Card game for the second year in a row while the A’s are trying to stop that from happening. The problem for the Yankees is that they’re playing four games against Tampa in Tropicana Field where they haven’t fared too well in 2018. The A’s are in Seattle to take on the Mariners who also could play the role of spoiler.

Other than that, Houston is going north of the border to face Toronto and Dallas Keuchel will be looking to win his 12th game of the season. The reason I’m suggesting this game is because Keuchel is currently 11-11 so if he wins, he’ll be over .500 for the year. It just shows you how good the Astros are. Keuchel has been just average and they still have 98 wins and counting.

Thank you for reading

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