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MLB News and Notes: The Final Stretch

With roughly 20 games left for most clubs in Major League Baseball, it is gut-check time for those that are competing for playoff spots. While many divisions have basically been decided, other teams are scrambling to fight for either a division title or a playoff spot. With so much going on, let’s take a look at both the standings and some news from around the league:

Teams Entering The Final Stretch

National League East: Much to the pleasure of Atlanta fans, the Braves have opened up their division lead on the Washington Nationals as they currently sit nine games ahead of them. The Nationals, though, sit in the first Wild Card spot, three games ahead of second place. The Philadelphia Phillies sit just two games out of the second Wild Card spot.

National League Central: The NL Central still remains the most intriguing of the divisions coming down the stretch. The St. Louis Cardinals have opened a 4.5-game lead in the division ahead of the Cubs, but both Chicago and the Brewers (6.5 games back) lurk. The Cubs hold the second Wild Card spot currently, while the Brewers sit just two games back for that race.

National League West: The NL West has basically been wrapped up since the All-Star break. At 93-52, the Los Angeles Dodgers sit an amazing 17 games ahead of the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks. Illustrating either how strong the Dodgers are or how weak the National League is, those same Diamondbacks sit only 1.5 games behind the second Wild Card spot.

American League East: At this point, the AL East seems pretty much wrapped up. The New York Yankees currently lead the Tampa Bay Rays by 8.5 games in the division. While that lead is technically not insurmountable, it would take quite a blowup by the Yankees to be caught. The Rays, though, do sit in the first Wild Card spot, a game ahead of the Oakland A’s. The biggest surprise of the division, though, is the defending champion Boston Red Sox, who sit 17.5 games back of the Yankees and eight games out of the second Wild Card.

American League Central: The AL Central is just a two-team race at this point. At 88-55, the Minnesota Twins currently sit 5.5 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians, while the Indians sit 1.5 games behind the second Wild Card spot. Third place in this division, the Chicago White Sox, sits 25 games back, and the last-place Detroit Tigers sit a whopping 45.5 games back.

American League West: In the AL West, it has been all Houston Astros. At 94-50, they currently sit 9.5 games ahead of the Oakland A’s, and after their 21-1 drubbing (which completed a four-game sweep) of the Mariners on Sunday, they look like they are ready to go for the playoffs. They welcome Oakland into town on Monday, which will be pivotal for the A’s, not because they plan on catching them in the division, but because Oakland currently sits in the second Wild Card spot, just 1.5 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians.

Pineda Gets Hit With Suspension

Despite their current lead in the division, the Minnesota Twins took a bit of a hit this week as pitcher Michael Pineda was suspended for 60 games after testing positive for hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic that is often used to mask PED’s in the system. In 26 starts this season for the Twins, Pineda was 11-5 with a 4.01 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. In 146 innings, he allowed 141 hits, 65 earned runs, 23 home runs and has struck out 140 versus just 28 walks.

While Pineda was certainly not the ace of the Twins, he would have likely slid into a playoff rotation; instead, the Twins will have to look elsewhere for a starter behind Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi.

Sanchez’s Season Is Done

The Houston Astros also lost a little bit of starting rotation depth as Aaron Sanchez will be undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder. Sanchez was part of the deal made at the trade deadline that saw Derek Fisher go to the Blue Jays in return for Sanchez, Joe Biagini and a minor leaguer. Sanchez notably was part of a combined no-hitter in his first performance after being traded to the Astros.

While the starting rotation is still in fine shape with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke and Wade Miley, the concern for the Astros will be how he bounces back for next year, as both Cole and Miley are free agents after the season. Time will tell but, for now, Sanchez is done for the year.

Oakland Promotes Top Prospect

The Oakland A’s will have to make a decision on who they want to remove from their 40-man roster before their series with the Houston Astros starts up Monday because it appears, according to MLB’s Martin Gallegos, that the A’s are calling up top prospect Jesus Luzardo. The 21-year-old lefty will be pitching out of the A’s bullpen for the time being but is likely being eyed for the starting rotation next season.

While he has been limited by some health issues this season, Luzardo has still gone 2-1 over three levels with a 2.51 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. In 43 innings, he has allowed 36 hits, 12 earned runs, four home runs and has struck out 57 versus just eight walks. The A’s will hope that he can give them a boost as they close in on the playoffs.

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